The Corner

Politics & Policy

Expanding Vaccine Eligibility without Expanding Vaccine Supply Doesn’t Help Much

Governor Henry McMaster (R., S.C.) looks on at a rally in Columbia, S.C., June 25, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I’m sure South Carolina governor Henry McMaster meant well when he announced that beginning Monday, any South Carolina resident aged 65 or older, regardless of health status or preexisting conditions, can begin scheduling appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Right now, South Carolina is vaccinating front-line medical workers, long-term-care-facility residents and staff, and everyone 70 and older. McMaster’s order makes approximately 309,000 South Carolinians between the ages of 65 and 69 eligible.

The problem is this order creates big expansion of who is eligible for vaccination — one that may or may not be matched by a big expansion of vaccine availability.

South Carolina is administering 21,745 doses per day, ranking 22nd out of the 50 states, and has used just over 70 percent of its supply, ranking 11th out of the 50 states. By most measures, the state is vaccinating its citizens at a pretty good pace. But the Palmetto State just has a whole lot of older residents to get through in the coming weeks and months. The state is a popular destination for retirees and just has about 900,000 seniors, the tenth-highest percentage in the country.

Nine hundred thousand seniors, at a pace of 21,000 vaccinations per day, adds up to just under 41 days — assuming the pace is maintained on weekends and holidays. And keep in mind, until the FDA approves the other vaccines, everyone needs two shots. (At least South Carolina won’t have to worry too much about snowstorms canceling appointments.)

Maybe the upcoming addition of 17 CVS pharmacies will increase the pace of vaccinations in the Palmetto State, but this doesn’t sound like a game-changer: “Supply for the limited rollout in the state, which is sourced directly from the federal pharmacy partnership program, will be approximately 15,300 total doses.”

I recently heard of a 97-year-old South Carolinian who got a vaccination appointment . . . for April 23. Perhaps the silver lining for seniors who are told they’ll have to wait until March or April is that by then the Johnson & Johnson vaccine might be approved and distributed — meaning those seniors’ vaccinations would be complete after one shot.

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