COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – The director of South Carolina’s lead health agency issued a statement calling for more people to get vaccinated after the state surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 related deaths.

Dr. Edward Simmer, director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, said South Carolina reported 15 new deaths on Wednesday, pushing the statewide total past the 10,000 mark.

He says the only way to prevent more deaths is through vaccination.

“Hundreds of millions of Americans have been fully vaccinated, including nearly two million South Carolinians. But our work is not done. That number only represents 45 percent of South Carolinians eligible for the vaccine, and it does not count all those aged 11-and-under who are not yet eligible for the vaccine but who depend on the rest of us to protect them,” said Dr. Simmer.

He says while it looked like the pandemic was improving only a month ago, the arrival of the Delta variant has created a new surge in cases and deaths “that we have to take seriously,” he said.

“Until we reach a critical percentage of South Carolinians vaccinated that can stifle COVID-19’s spread, we are not out of danger. And the longer that takes, the more time the virus has to mutate into new, harder-to-control variants,” said Dr. Simmer.

“While statistics are useful to measure data, there is no statistic for grief or comfort in a milestone for those who have lost family members and loved ones. To all those families across South Carolina, I want to say my deepest sympathy is with you. I know I also speak on behalf of the thousands of dedicated DHEC employees across our great state who are working non-stop to help prevent more lives from being lost.” – DR. EDWARD SIMMER, SCDHEC DIRECTOR

Dr. Simmer urged all residents to get fully vaccinated and to continue following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DHEC.

“South Carolinians have a well-deserved reputation for working together and taking care of each other.  Now more than ever, we need to do so.  If we do, we will defeat COVID-19, which has already taken so much from so many,” said Dr. Simmer.