COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) – At least 11 people who died from COVID-19 in South Carolina during the first two weeks of June were not fully vaccinated against the virus, according to a state epidemiologist.
Dr. Jane Kelly, an epidemiologist for the Department of Health and Environmental Control, said during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon that of 1,635 new COVID-19 cases reported between June 1-14, for which the state knew the individuals’ vaccination status, 94 percent, were not fully vaccinated. Among the 92 cases that required hospitalization during that time, 90 percent were not fully vaccinated.
“And the most sobering data point of all, we learned that of the 11 people who were reported with death from COVID-19 during that same two-week period, for whom we knew the vaccine status, all 11 individuals, all 100% of them, were not fully vaccinated,” Kelly said.
The statistics are troubling as the state continues efforts to prevent variants of the virus, specifically the Delta variant, from spreading as they have in other states.
“We have vaccinations available, and we could have helped to save their lives if they had been fully vaccinated,” she said. “The results of this analysis that DHEC performed is similar to results being reported nationally and from many other states as well.
“In fact, every analysis that I have seen continues to show that the overwhelming majority of people who are continuing to get COVID-19, and who have severe disease or have been hospitalized or dying from COVID-19, were those who were not fully vaccinated. “I can’t think of a more impactful point to make that would encourage someone to get vaccinated, to receive their shots right away.”
Overall in South Carolina, DHEC statistics show 48.8 percent of residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Forty-three percent have been fully vaccinated. The state is currently one of the 12 most at-risk states for new outbreaks because of its low vaccination rate, Kelly said.
Of 195 samples tested at the state’s Public Health Laboratory in June, Kelly said 78 percent showed one of the six known variants of concern. DHEC’s most-recent statistics show only 10 cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant in South Carolina: six are in the Lowcountry, three in the Midlands and one in the Pee Dee.
That might seem like a low number, but Kelly said health officials know there are more variant cases than are being recorded. Current state statistics only reflect what is reported from the state lab, and not every sample is genetically sequenced to identify specific variants. Plus, statistics show more than half of all new cases in the United State are the Delta variant, she said.
“The best thing you can do to protect yourself from the Delta variant is to make sure you’re fully vaccinated,” she said. “Encourage your friends and family to get their shots as well. I mean, the studies continue to show that the three vaccines that are approved in the United States are successful in preventing severe illness with the Delta variant.”
Meanwhile, Kelly said it is too early to tell whether the state will experience a surge in COVID-19 cases related to the July 4 holiday, largely because of the virus’ 14-day incubation period. However, she said health officials have seen “upticks” in cases after other holidays during the past year.
“The biggest risk factor is not being vaccinated,” she said.