MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – While Tidelands Health and MUSC Health had employee vaccine mandates in place before Monday’s FDA ruling granting full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, no other hospitals or colleges across the Grand Strand and Pee Dee region have taken similar action.
“The majority of our employee and physician partners, including more than 90 percent of employed physicians, have already received the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine,” Gayle Resetar, the chief operating officer for Tidelands Health said last week. “It is our responsibility to our patients and to each other to move to a fully vaccinated workforce.”
MUSC Health leaders and care team members are required to receive at least one dose of a vaccine before starting work, officials said about the mandate that went into effect last week. Those who get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines must get their second dose within three weeks as a condition of employment. As of July 1, MUSC said more than 99.9% of its care team members have complied with the policy.
Elsewhere, Grand Strand Health said there have been no discussions about mandating vaccines for employees in light of the FDA ruling, and Conway Medical Center said its leadership team is continuing to monitor the situation.
“At this time, CMC is not requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, although an overwhelming majority of our staff is fully vaccinated,” spokeswoman Allyson Floyd said.
Florence-based McCleod Health said after Monday morning’s announcement by the FDA that everyone is being encouraged to get vaccinated, wear a mask, and socially distance. In a statement, the hospital said an “overwhelming majority of our COVID-19 admissions are related to those who are unvaccinated.”
“We know that the science and evidence demonstrate the effectiveness of using all three of these tools to mitigate the spread of COVID and reduce the current increase in COVID admissions,” the statement said. “Variant mutations have been linked to increased transmission and reduced immune response.
“With a large pool of unvaccinated people (such as we have in SC), this gives the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate into new variants. To maximize protection from the Delta variant, we have taken a very strong position to encourage VACCINATION, wear mask indoors and in public, and socially distance to prevent possible spread to others.”
At Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center in Hartsville, officials said there is not an employee mandate at this time but employees and members of the community are being encouraged to get vaccinated.
“We have known that the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines were safe and effective, and we are pleased that the FDA has taken this important step to further validate this based on thorough research and comprehensive data review,” a spokesman said. “We are hopeful this decision will help reduce vaccine hesitancy among unvaccinated individuals and encourage them to roll up their sleeves to protect themselves and those around them from COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office said the FDA’s action should not affect colleges and universities.
“As far as we know the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine would not prompt any sort of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for public colleges and universities because Proviso 117.163 still applies,” Wilson’s office said in a statement. “That proviso does not mention FDA approval or provide an exception if the FDA does give approval, it simply says “state-supported institutions of higher learning that directly or indirectly receive funds appropriated or authorized through the general appropriations act shall be restricted from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for any student as a condition of enrollment, attendance at on-campus instruction, or residence on campus.”
The South Carolina Department of Education also said it does not have the authority to mandate vaccinations for students or staff members. That is the role of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, the department said in a statement.
A Coastal Carolina University spokesman said there have been no changes to the school’s Fall 2021 operations plans as a result of the FDA’s action. The university has information online about the operations plan and its vaccination incentive program.
Officials with Francis Marion University in Florence and Coker University in Hartsville said nothing has changed after the FDA’s announcement.
“Coker’s Covid policy remains the same,” the school said in a statement. “Our goal is to have at least 80% of all students and employees vaccinated. We expect to hit that number next week, thanks to all of the hard work of our student government to advocate for vaccinations.”
State statement said all unvaccinated individuals on the Coker campus – students, faculty, staff, and contract employees are required to provide weekly negative Covid tests. Those that do not provide negative tests by Friday at noon are not permitted to return to campus until they have a negative test.
“Now that Pfizer has full FDA approval, we will continue to bring the Pfizer vaccine to campus, hoping the full approval will encourage some of those students and families who were concerned about getting vaccinated to do so now,” the school’s statement said. “We understand that some believed that, before today, the Pfizer vaccine wasn’t approved by the FDA. Today’s actions should help alleviate those concerns.” The school said it had a Pfizer vaccination clinic last week and is having a Johnson & Johnson clinic on Monday that is open to all Hartsville-area residents.