South Carolina’s top epidemiologist warns against complacency, stresses importance of getting COVID-19 vaccine

State - Regional

FILE

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) – As South Carolina inches its way toward 2 million people having at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the state’s top epidemiologist continues to encourage people to get their shots and not become complacent about the disease.

Data released Wednesday on the state’s coronavirus dashboard showed 1.96 million South Carolina residents, or 45.7%, have received at least one dose. Of those, $1.65 million, or 38.5% have been fully vaccinated. The state has now seen 9,761 confirmed or probable deaths linked to COVID-19.

In a media briefing Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Linda Bell stressed the importance of being vigilant about a resurgence “as we look toward the end of the pandemic.” People should understand that just even though Gov. Henry McMaster recently lifted a state of emergency there is still work to be done.

“That doesn’t mean doesn’t mean the pandemic is over,” she said.

Getting vaccinated is key, she said, pointing out that it has been 15 months since the state announced its first COVID-19 cases in March 2020 and roughly seven months since the first vaccine first became available in the state. Since then, she said the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have helped slow the spread of the virus and ease many health and economic burdens.

“I want to thank everyone for the decision to be vaccinated because it means so much to you as an individual and to the community as a whole,” she said. “And I say to those who have not yet received your vaccine that I hope you’ll consider that maybe now is the time, because the consequences can be severe and the benefits are extraordinary.”

For those who have been hesitant to get vaccinated, Bell encouraged them to seek out facts about the vaccines.

“Please inform yourself with factual information,” she said. “Please make sure that you’re not following misinformation that is having a significant impact on our ability to bring our vaccination rates up. It’s never really been easier or safer to get the vaccine than it is now.”

Responding to a question about South Carolina having the lowest percentage of first-dose vaccinations in the U.S., Bell said the state is trying to encourage more younger people to get vaccinated. She said the Department of Health and Environmental Control has been working with the state’s breweries and will be hosting the first “Shot and a Chaser” event on Thursday. DHEC has also partnered with several national chains to offer free food and gifts to people who get vaccinated.

She also said many barriers to getting a vaccine have been reduced to the point that getting the vaccine is now a matter of choice and not access.

Bell also added that DHEC is planning to debut new information about variants on its COVID dashboard in the near future. While there are many known variants of the virus with a high rate of transmission between people, Bell said she’s more concerned about the ones that haven’t surfaced yet. That’s because not everyone who tests positive gets genetic testing to identify potential variants.

“The good news is that we know that the vaccines are effective in preventing severe disease, including the variants of interest, the variants of concern that we know about,” Bell said. “But if we continue to see moderate transmission in our community, we continue to see high transmission in other communities, we’re at risk of having the emergence of variants that we do not yet know about that could not be susceptible to the vaccines.”

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