DHEC: COVID-19 vaccine will be provided at no cost, months away for general public


COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW/WSAV) – A vaccine for COVID-19 is months away for the general population in South Carolina but will be provided at no cost, state officials announced on Wednesday.

“This vaccine is going through all the same steps any vaccine would and that is for the protection of the American public,” said Dr. Linda Bell, SC State epidemiologist on a conference call Wednesday morning.

“We want to vaccinate everyone who wants it but we need to know the question about how effective it is – how does it affect the elderly – some vaccines need special dosing for people with other medical conditions. That will come when companies submit their documents to the FDA.

Because of initially limited supplies, the vaccine will be released in phases. The first phase will target workers in healthcare facilities and others with key roles to preserve “functioning roles in society,” said Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist.

“There are going to be hundreds of pages of documents to review from pre-clinical studies to animal studies to phase 1 2 3 human studies,” explains Dr. Bell. “A lot of efficacy and safety data to be reviewed that process the FDA states will take at least two weeks and if there are any questions then those question need to be addressed and that will delay it even further.”

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is working to figure out storage, distribution, and administration of the vaccine, Bell said.

Initial COVID-19 vaccines will need to be put at ultra-cold storage in minus 70 degrees Celsius temperatures, she added. Many facilities in the state do not have that ultra-cold storage. 

The state is encouraging health care providers to enroll to become a vaccine distributer.

DHEC not requiring anyone to receive a vaccine, according to Dr. Jane Kelly, assistant state epidemiologist. Individual companies and organizations may have their own requirements.

“There is no way enough doses of the vaccine will be available.. or available at all.. before the thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. So our recommendations for masks, social distancing, avoiding gathering, including those in the home. we still reinforce those very strongly,” said Dr. Jane Kelly, Asst, State Epidemiologist.

Pfizer said on Wednesday that more interim results from its ongoing vaccine study suggest the shots are 95% effective and that the vaccine protects older people most at risk of dying from COVID-19. Earlier this week Moderna, Inc. announced that its experimental vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective after an interim analysis of its late-stage study.

U.S. officials have said they hope to have about 20 million vaccine doses each from Moderna and Pfizer available for distribution in late December. The first shots will be offered to vulnerable groups like medical and nursing home workers, and people with serious health conditions.

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