COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines could be in South Carolina as soon as mid-December, officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) said Thursday during a briefing.
The Pfizer vaccine could be approved by Dec. 10 with the first shipments arriving between Dec. 13-15, though things could change, according to DHEC.
The vaccines will be given first to those in the direct line, said Linda Bell, state epidemiologist. Priority will be given to healthcare and frontline workers as well as people in long-term care facilities.
DHEC said there will be five locations throughout the state that will store the vaccine due to the vaccine needing to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. Two-hundred providers across the state will be able to administer the vaccine. While the vaccine must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures long-term, it can be stored at refrigerator temperatures for shorter periods of time.
The vaccine will be administered in phases, DHEC said. Health care workers and people at long-term facilities will be the first to get the vaccine, followed by other people at high risk, though this group hasn’t been completely defined yet, according to DHEC.
Then people at increased risk but not as high-risk as those in the first phases will receive the vaccine. This phase could include teachers, college workers and people with other medical conditions.
After the first two groups, the vaccine will be available to the general public, according to DHEC. The goal is for everyone who wants a vaccine to be able to get one.
DHEC said it doesn’t expect to have enough vaccines in the first week to cover everyone in the highest risk group but will be able to do it as the weeks go on. DHEC hopes the first group will be vaccinated by early 2021 and the second group will begin to get the vaccine. The timeline is subject to change depending on vaccine availability.
The vaccine can’t give someone COVID-19 because the virus isn’t in the vaccine, said Jane Kelly, assistant state epidemiologist. The vaccine keeps the virus from getting into your cells.
Kelly said even a vaccine that is 90%-95% effective means that 5%-10% of people can still get COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, so it will be important to still wear masks and social distance.
The vaccines have gone through the same development process as every other vaccine, Bell said.
DHEC warns that while the vaccine is a step in the right direction, it is not the end of the pandemic.
“The vaccine — it is ultimately the vaccine that will get us out of the pandemic. But these early supplies will not get us there soon enough,” Bell said.