COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) – A panel of South Carolina lawmakers reviewing the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic listened to hours of testimony Tuesday.

The joint committee of state Senators and state Representatives held a pandemic preparedness listening session. Lawmakers said the panel was established “to determine a framework for evaluating the public health response during the pandemic, identifying what worked and areas of improvement.”

Most of the people who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting were critical of vaccines and public health measures widely recommended during the pandemic.

“I have great compassion, especially for the state level leaders who are trying to make decisions in this fast-moving environment,” Allergist Dr. Matthew Clark, from North Augusta, told lawmakers. “Nevertheless, they must know and anticipate and closely monitor as best they can for ways that their recommendations could backfire and make the cure worse than the disease.”

Lawmakers also heard testimony from a New York attorney who represents clients with vaccine injuries, other South Carolina doctors, and medical professionals. Many of them expressing concerns about the state’s pandemic response and COVID-19 vaccine side-effects.

Some speakers and lawmakers on the panel also vouched for the effectiveness of ivermectin in treating COVID-19 based on personal experience and accounts from other health professionals.

Currently, federal and state health officials do not recommend ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the all-Republican committee insinuated they wanted state health officials to operate with more independence from federal health officials.

“Aren’t we an independent state? Aren’t we a sovereign state? Do we have to rely on the federal government to protect the people of South Carolina?” asked Sen. Billy Garrett (R-McCormick).

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) Director Dr. Edward Simmer spoke late Tuesday afternoon.

“Reasonable people can differ on some of these issues,” said Simmer. “I will say that I am very proud of the DHEC team and the work they’ve done over the last three years with the pandemic. I think we’ve learned a lot over the last two and a half years.”

Dr. Simmer said there were things they could have done better, like better communication regarding their recommendations.

“Another thing we have learned is we will work much harder to keep children in school,” he told lawmakers.

Simmer took over the agency after his confirmation in February 2021, a little less than a year after the pandemic started.

According to DHEC, more than 20,000 people died from COVID-19 in South Carolina.