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Greenville Business Magazine

First Doses of Covid-19 Vaccine Being Administered in Greenville County

Dec 15, 2020 01:06PM ● By David Dykes

By Liv Osby

The first doses of Covid-19 vaccine were being administered in Greenville County and at Lexington Medical Center on Tuesday amid a background of rising cases and hospitalizations that are straining hospital resources. 

Dr. Saria Saccocio, ambulatory chief medical officer and leader of the Covid-19 Vaccination Task Force with Prisma Health, said the hospital system was approved for nearly 10,000 doses in the initial distribution, and that vaccinations were to start Tuesday morning.

“We are thrilled,” she said during a forum on the vaccine hosted by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce for community leaders.

“We can’t wait to give the shot in the arms of our health care workers - those who have been front lines,” she said. “Those who work in the ER … in the Covid units and critical care units, and those standing in line all day long testing patients.”

Bon Secours St. Francis Health System was expected to get around 1,000 doses the first week, said Nathan Ash, vice president of pharmacy for Bon Secours Mercy Health.

Meanwhile, Lexington Medical Center began vaccinating front-line health care workers on the hospital campus in West Columbia on Tuesday. In all, 48 employees received a dose. Vaccinations will continue Wednesday and for the rest of the week.

Lexington Medical Center’s first Covid-19 vaccine went to 29-year-old nurse Ethan Rucker, who has worked with patients in Lexington Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’ve been fighting this virus for months. Now, we have something that will hopefully put an end to it all,” Rucker said. “I work with a great group of people. To the families of our patients -- we want to tell them we’re going to keep doing our part so that we can provide the best possible care for their family members.”

Additional employees who received the Covid-19 vaccine Tuesday included an environmental services (housekeeping) staff member who works in the emergency department, a critical care physician who works with Covid-19 patients, a respiratory therapist and a Lexington Medical Center Public Safety department officer.

Lexington Medical Center received its first delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday morning. UPS delivered 2,925 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the hospital campus in West Columbia.

The doses arrived in one box packed with dry ice that included GPS tracking and a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Lexington Medical Center has freezers that are storing the doses at the required very cold temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Dr. L. Brannon Traxler, interim public health director for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, said coronavirus cases have been increasing since shortly before Thanksgiving, along with hospitalizations.

“It mirrors what we’re seeing in other parts of the country although it happened later here … likely because it’s warmer here longer,” she said. “And Greenville County has seen the largest number of new cases of any county in the state.”

Statewide, 254,776 cases had been confirmed, 12,910 people were hospitalized and 4,751 had died as of Dec. 14, according to DHEC.

Greenville County reported 28,817 confirmed cases and 415 deaths.

The positivity rate has increased as well with Greenville County reporting just over 25 percent compared to about 20 percent statewide, Traxler said.

The first vaccine doses started arriving in the state Monday and DHEC expects to get around 43,000 doses this week, and about 200,000 to 300,000 by the end of the year, she said. 

It’s recommended that front-line health care workers and residents and employees at long-term care facilities be vaccinated first, Traxler said.

“The overriding goal is to prevent death and 40 percent of deaths have been in long-term care facilities,” she said. “In Phase 1A, it’s people at the most risk and most critical for saving lives.”

After that, the next groups vaccinated will be essential workers who keep society functioning, she said. And while the next phases are still being determined, eventually the general population will be eligible as the vaccine is rolled out.

“This is a modern medical and scientific miracle, but it’s still in limited doses,” she said. “By summer, it should be available for anybody who wants it. And I encourage everyone to get it.”

Nationwide, about 71 percent of the public will definitely or probably get a vaccine, up from 63 percent in September, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported Tuesday. 

But 27 percent are hesitant, with 12 percent saying they probably would not get the vaccine and 15 percent who definitely would not it even if it were free and deemed safe by scientists.

Hesitancy was highest among Republicans – 42 percent; those between 30 and 49 – 36 percent; rural residents – 35 percent; and Black adults – 35 percent.

Chamber CEO Carlos Phillips said that past events like the Tuskegee experiment led to mistrust of the health system among African Americans.

Traxler said that while events like that are real and must be acknowledged, they have led to the extensive review process that exists today and that the vaccine is safe and effective.

“These are lessons learned to make sure it’s not happening again,” she said. “Every population can trust this vaccine.”

Ash agreed, saying that the process run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been public and transparent.

“We can absolutely trust the CDC and the FDA,” he said. “We can all take confidence in that process.”

Ash said it’s also important to acknowledge that side effects – typically headache, fatigue, some fever – can occur, usually after the second dose, but should resolve in 12-24 hours. These are not unusual after any vaccine, he said.

And noting that there’s been “a lot of misinformation and some disinformation” about the vaccine, Ash said that while this is first commercially available mRNA vaccine, scientists have been working on it since the 1980s.

Traxler said DHEC is working with many partners to distribute the vaccine, including pharmacies.

Prisma Health, with 30,000 employees, has been named the vaccine distributor for the Upstate. 

And Saccocio said that people should be prepared to be vaccinated not just in clinical settings but at unique environments, including schools, drive-through sites, and mobile units traveling to neighborhoods to ensure it is distributed broadly.

Phillips, who praised the health care providers who worked at significant risk to their own health, said the vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s going to be a game changer,” he said. “And it’s in everyone’s best interest to take the vaccine when their number is called.”

Traxler said that 70-75 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. 

“That will be the key for us to get back to normal or close to normal,” she said. “That’s why I call on everyone to be vaccinated when it is their time.”

In the meantime, Saccocio said, people still need to use coronavirus precautions as hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise.

“This is serious,” she said. “Please wear your mask, socially distance, and wash your hands. And over the holidays, don’t gather in groups outside your household. We have a long way to go. Let’s take this time to do what we need to do to keep everyone safe … so we can be all together to celebrate the holidays in 2021.”

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