COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) – Gov. McMaster on Tuesday announced a massive expansion of COVID vaccine eligibility, moving the state to phase 1B and including those ages 55 and older.

DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer said this will include about half of all South Carolinians or about 2.7 million residents.

Phase 1B, to take effect on Monday, includes frontline essential workers and:

Anyone age 55 and up.

Anyone 16 to 64 who are high risk – That includes those with cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, down syndrome, HIV/AIDS, organ transplants, obesity, and pregnancy, among others.  People with special needs.

Those who are at extreme risk of exposure: Teachers and education support staff members, daycare workers. corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, and public transit workers.

Persons who perform a job that puts them at increased risk of exposure due to their frequent, close (less than 6 feet) and ongoing (more than 15 minutes) contact with others in the work environment.

‘Our schools must be open

McMaster and state schools chief Molly Spearman said the vaccine expansion means schools need to move to five-day-a-week instruction immediately. 

State lawmakers had been considering ways to pressure McMaster to include teachers in the 1A category. But even now with school employees included in 1B, by the time teachers get their shots and build up immunity, it will be the end of the school year, DHEC officials have said.

Teachers expressed frustration at not being prioritized in the 1B phase. “Today’s announcement once again provided no information on the most important detail in this plan, when will the providers receive the doses to vaccinate teachers,” said Dr. Richard O’Malley, Superintendent of Florence 1 Schools.

“Our association has asked for that,” said Kathy Maness, director of the Palmetto State Teacher Association, about prioritizing teachers. ” The superintendent of education has asked for that, the South Carolina Senate voted unanimously to prioritize teachers and for some reason, the governor doesn’t want to do that.”

“He is pushing five days, face-to-face and I’m going to tell you teachers want nothing more than to be back in school face to face but they’ve got to be safe,” Maness added. 

Wait lists at hospitals

 Conway Medical Center officials told News13 they still have about 4,500 on the waiting list from Phase 1A. They are scheduled for appointments in late March and early April. 

Right now, CMC is running clinic 7 days a week administering about 3,600 vaccines per week, including both first and second doses. The hospital received about 40,000 appointment requests from Phase 1A.

“We are ready and willing to expand our capabilities and provide more vaccines per day or week,” said Allyson Floyd with Conway Medical Center, “but that is dependent on a reliable increase in supply.”

Right now, hospitals and other providers in South Carolina are closing in on nearly half-a-million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered. Last month, the Governor asked everyone to speed up vaccinations in the state.