Sgt. Alongkorn Khamkam and Tidelands Health

Sgt. Alongkorn Khamkam of the S.C. National Guard helps administer the COVID-19 vaccine to Phase 1a health care workers on Thursday. Photo Courtesy to Tidelands Health.

Hospitals across the county are quickly looking to move into the next phases of inoculating healthcare workers and residents alike with the COVID-19 vaccine.

This week, Conway Medical Center and Tidelands Health gave updates on their progress as state health officials from S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control gave the all clear to begin vaccinating hospital patients age 65 and older who don't currently have the viral disease.

Currently in South Carolina, 146,500 doses of the two-shot COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine have been received, according to DHEC. As of Saturday, health care workers have given 68,027 first doses and 12,359 second doses.

Here's a breakdown of the past week.

Tidelands Health receives aid from S.C. National Guard, seeks extra help from community members

The S.C. National Guard returned to the Grand Strand Thursday to aid Tidelands Health to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to dozens eligible employees at their health facilities.

At least 76 employees at Tidelands Health were inoculated Thursday with the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Ashley Capps, vice president of nursing and operations at Tidelands Health.

Capps said that Tidelands Health "quickly got a process going for vaccinating their front line employees" once vaccinations became available That's when the National Guard pitched in.

"We just had a growing demand for resources," Capps said. "When we got a call and some collaboration from the National Guard offering their assistance yet again, we definitely took them up on their offer."

Capps said that the National Guard will continue to be here "for a brief period of time."

"[The National Guard] assesses the need ongoing and we touch base with them at a regular cadence," Capps explained. "If the need is demonstrated and ongoing and if they have the resources available, then they continue to support us which has been really great."

This was not the first time that Tidelands Health had received aid from the National Guard. Back in July, members of the National Guard aided Tidelands Health in large-scale community testing events. It's a partnership that Capps says is "really great."

"[The National Guard] bring a wealth of experience," Capps said. "They also bring some really great feedback on execution and operational efficiency. They're very accustomed to standing up to missions quickly and executing on those objectives."

Tidelands Health announced earlier this week that they would create more than temporary staffing positions and were looking to the community to "help to carry out the massive public health initiative."

“Our goal is to vaccinate as many people as we can, as quickly and safely as we can, in accordance with state guidelines,” Gayle Resetar, Tidelands Health chief operating officer, said in a Jan. 7 news release. “To do that, we need support from our community. If you are a retired nurse, if you’ve left the work force or even if you’re already working in our community but would like to earn additional income, this is a great opportunity to serve."

Resetar added that the record COVID-19 levels in the county have stretched Tidelands Health workforce "to the limit."

"To successfully carry out a community-wide vaccination program, we’re investing in these new staff positions that will enable us to safely get vaccine in arms as quickly as possible," Resetar said.

Any who are hired by Tidelands will be fully trained and will have appropriate personal protective equipment to safeguard their health. Tidelands added that any individuals with data entry and customer service experience can apply to serve as a clinic registrar.

To apply for the temporary positions, visit tidelandshealth.org/careers/.

S.C. health officials give update on Phase 1a, urge hospital workers to schedule vaccination appointments

As the first week of 2021 came to a close, DHEC and other state health officials urged hospitals to push on with Phase 1a and gave the green light to preparing for Phase 1b.

“We recognize the urgent need to vaccinate as many people in our state as possible to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director, said in a release on Jan. 6. “To support this effort, hospitals should vaccinate any South Carolinian who qualifies under any category of Phase 1a, which encompasses our healthcare workers.”

Phase 1a vaccinations cover residents in long term care facilities and health care workers. Phase 1b will include people 75 years or older with or without underlying health conditions. Phase 1c includes all people aged 65 – 74 years and older, as well as people aged 16 – 64 years with certain underlying health conditions that put them at high risk for severe disease.

On Friday, DHEC gave the green light to S.C. hospitals to begin vaccinating their admitted patients, who are aged 65 years and older, as long as they do not currently have COVID-19 and a provider feels it is indicated for them. 

“It is within our state's best interest to allow hospitals to begin vaccinating their admitted patients who are aged 65 years and older,” DHEC Interim Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said in a news release. “By moving up these patients who are currently admitted in our hospitals we are ensuring that the most vulnerable among us are being vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

Traxler went on to say in Friday's release that Gov. Henry McMaster, DHEC and the South Carolina Hospital Association agree this move is "another great step toward vaccinating our most vulnerable residents."

Vaccination to these individuals can occur immediately, depending on availability of vaccine and staffing,” Traxler said in the release.

With 55% of the total doses of the COVID-19 vaccine utilized according to DHEC, officials are urging health care workers to schedule their appointments to receive the vaccine so that hospitals can progress into the next phase.

“Our hospital partners have made great strides in getting Phase 1a individuals vaccinated and are key to getting vaccination for all those who want to be immunized, especially due to the ultra-cold logistics of the Pfizer vaccine,” Traxler said in a release.

DHEC said that South Carolina employers with Phase 1a workers are encouraged to reach out to their local hospitals as soon as possible and no later than Jan. 15, 2021.

So far, 92,414 appointments have been scheduled, according to DHEC's website

Local hospitals ask for patience from the community regarding COVID-19 vaccine

As the vaccine continues to be administered to health care workers and those who are deemed a higher priority, local hospitals are asking community members to be patient when it comes to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

"This vaccination program is a massive undertaking from a logistical standpoint," Conway Medical Center said in a release earlier this week. "To coordinate vaccinations on what will be a large scale takes planning and scheduling for those who are going to administer the shots, working out the flow having the correct number of vaccines available, coordinating how a registration/scheduling process will work for those who work outside the hospital, etc."

CMC added that up to 1 million people in the state of South Carolina could be vaccinated in Phase 1b.

"This is an unprecedented effort for all of us," the release said. "We ask for patience from the public as we work through distributing these vaccines."

Capps of Tidelands Health shares CMC's sentiments.

"This is the opportunity for all of us to turn the corner on this virus," Capps said. "I would use the time to continue to practice all of the evidence-based interventions that we have such as social distancing and masking."

Capps added that she's going to continue to reinforce those practices "beyond vaccination."

"We continue to be committed to slowing the spread of this in our community," Capps said. "Continue the good work that we've done. Continue the dedication that we have to protecting our community. Do your research. Get comfortable and ready and certainly be a role model for others."

According to DHEC's website, the plan for widespread availability of the vaccine is set for late spring 2021 to the fall of 2021. That is when anyone who wishes to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will be to get vaccinated.

The vaccine rollout comes as the state and county are facing a spike in new COVID-19 cases which rivals the summer spike in severity

On Saturday, DHEC announced 217 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county. Horry County has a cumulative total of 19,960 confirmed cases since tracking began. DHEC also announced one new death in the county, bringing the total death toll to 284 in the county.

The Moderna vaccine, which is being given to residents and staff of long term care facilities, is being distributed by pharmacies who have partnered with the federal government. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one currently available to those who aren't in long term care facilities. 

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