Eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine opened to all South Carolina residents 16 and older Wednesday, but Horry County hospitals didn’t see the influx in appointment requests that some expected.
When phase 1b of the state’s vaccine rollout began earlier this month, many hospitals reported being inundated with requests as the majority of the state’s population was eligible for the shot. But with all adults over 16 cleared to get vaccinated, that pattern didn’t necessarily continue.
Hospitals see a fraction of the demand
At Conway Medical Center, only about 300 appointments were requested in the first 12 hours of expanded eligibility, compared to around 3,000 requests in the same time frame the last time the state’s immunization plan progressed to include frontline workers and people 55 and older, according to CMC spokesperson Allyson Floyd. She said most new appointment requests were from people age 16-54, but some were still 55 and older.
“It may be a thing as simple as in that age range, they’re holding off on that initial surge to kind of stop, then maybe looking to sign up,” Floyd said.
There seemed to be less of a “sense of urgency” as eligibility opened to the younger population, according to Tidelands Health Chief Operating Officer Gayle Resetar.
“Not to say people aren’t interested in getting the vaccine, or there’s not still demand,” she said. “More of just a ‘next week is fine’ [attitude].”
Tidelands had roughly 1,000 appointments requested Wednesday and has added different ways to schedule appointments to adapt to the evolving vaccine rollout and younger age group.
McLeod Health, which has a standing weekly vaccination clinic at Myrtle Beach Mall and uses a voucher system for vaccines at many of its sites, saw an increase in requests, according to vaccine coordinator Jenny Hardee. But the surge wasn’t to the same caliber of the early days of the vaccine plan.
“We haven’t seen them respond as quickly as the 70-and-over, we’re not seeing them as quickly and as anxiously as the older age group,” Hardee said.
Grand Strand Medical Center holds weekly vaccine clinics, and hasn’t held one since eligibility expanded, according to spokesperson Katie Maclay. But the health system has scheduled nearly 1,000 appointments through the end of April, around 20% of which were made Wednesday when eligibility expanded.
‘Slow and steady’ versus overwhelming demand
There are a few reasons for the possible “slow and steady” trend hospitals are seeing. Vaccine appointments are more readily available than they were weeks and months ago, and more sites have been approved to give the vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine entered the scene after the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna brands were in full swing. It’s largely being distributed to pharmacies, so people may be targeting their local Walgreens or CVS in lieu of a hospital, hoping to get a one-shot vaccine.
The older population has been identified at higher risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19, which is why they were prioritized in the first phases of the state’s vaccination plan.
“The 65-year-olds wanted to hug their grandchildren and go on vacation,” Resetar said. “And that’s not exactly what motivates the 30-year-old, but there are some significant advantages to moving toward vaccination, not only for the public good but for them personally.”
The nerves about a severe illness might have resonated more with older people than with teens and young adults, but the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is still urging residents to get the shot as soon as they can.
“We’re continuing to urge all South Carolinians to not wait and to begin scheduling their appointments as soon as possible,” DHEC spokesperson Laura Renwick wrote in an email to The Sun News.
Renwick added that DHEC’s vaccine information phone line and the vaccine locator map both saw an increase in activity since eligibility was expanded, but some DHEC clinics still had openings as of 1 p.m. Thursday.
Administrators at local hospitals are hopeful that the vaccine effort will pick up steam among the younger age group in the coming days and weeks.
“I think that young folks sometimes, because they’re healthy and don’t have any comorbidities, they probably aren’t going to be as sick or they won’t be affected,” Hardee said. “It is important so that we can build herd immunity in our community so that we can all all get back to some normalcy.”
More than 162,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Horry County, according to DHEC.
To find a COVID-19 vaccine site, visit https://vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov/.