As the Palmetto State arranges to roll out Phase 1b vaccine access on March 8, manufacturers across the state are navigating a workplace landscape where most employees on the floor will qualify for the vaccine while some executives may not.
“Throughout South Carolina’s vaccination efforts, our priority has been – and continues to be – saving lives,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in the March 2 announcement. “In the month of February, South Carolina made tremendous progress on expanding access to vaccinations as the supply of vaccine increased. Our hospitals, pharmacies and healthcare providers became more nimble and efficient at getting shots in arms. Because of these successes, we’re now in a position to make the majority of South Carolinians eligible to receive the vaccine.”
Vaccine-eligible South Carolinians now include anyone 55 or above, those between the ages of 16 and 54 with a high-risk medical condition ranging from obesity or pregnancy, and frontline workers – such as those on factory floors – in settings where they must be in close contact with others.
The S.C. Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Commerce Department, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Greenville Area Development Corp. aimed to answer industry leader’s questions in a virtual meeting Wednesday morning.
According to Myra Reece, director of environmental affairs at DHEC, 2.7 million South Carolinians will become eligible for the vaccine on Monday, prompting mass vaccination of a vast number of manufacturing employees, school staff and law enforcement officers.
“We’re going to be relying on self-identification,” Reece said during the meeting. “It’s almost like an honor system that employees can go through a series of questions and answer these questions. And if bottom line, they report to work every day – their job requires them to do that – and they come into close contact with folks in the work environment, they are considered frontline essential workers.”
No documentation will be necessary to the vaccine provider, only a patient’s attestation that he or she is a frontline employee that must work within six feet of coworkers for more than 15 minutes, according to the agency.
“We’re trying to keep it very simple,” Reece said.
On Monday, an overall 3.9 million South Carolinians will become eligible to get the vaccine, but supply is already struggling to keep up with demand.
Louis Eubank of DHEC said that so far, despite increases in vaccine allocation since December, South Carolina is receiving between 115,000 and 200,000 doses a week.
“You can see that we have millions of people who need the vaccine, and that demand is only going to increase come Monday,” he said. “Our supply is a fraction of that, so there are going to be some issues that we will have to work through as a state, as a program, with our partners over the coming weeks.”
He added that the Jansen Corp. or Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine will be a game-changer for vaccine accessibility, especially for rural areas and businesses. About 41,000 Jansen Corp. vaccine doses reached the Palmetto State this weekend, but will become more widely available in April as production ramps up with aid from Merck.
South Carolina will have to wait another two weeks for an additional Jansen Corp. shipment.
In the meantime, DHEC is activating hundreds of additional vaccine providers to be ready for the supply when it comes.
Some businesses with an onsite health clinic have already applied to become a vaccine provider, according to Reece, and are readying themselves for the onslaught of demand.
“There’s a limited number, but certainly being a vaccine provider yourself is an option,” she said.
Most employers, however, are either extending information about a provider to employees this week or will host an onsite vaccination event via an external provider. A DHEC toolkit on the agency’s website will include resources such as sample announcements and the questions providers will ask patients, she said.