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The latest South Carolina Public Radio News reports on the spread of the coronavirus and efforts to fight it.

Understanding the COVID Vaccination Process in South Carolina

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The COVID-19 vaccine is here. But you might be confused about when you can get it or how.

So let’s break it down.

First: COVID vaccines will be delivered in phases. The more likely you are to be around infected people or to suffer serious health problems from exposure to COVID, the earlier you will be able to get vaccinated.

That’s why the first set of people getting vaccinated are frontline healthcare workers, senior and long-term care facilities residents and staff, and South Carolinians over age 70.

The next phases will open the vaccination schedule to those with public jobs, like teachers, non-emergency healthcare workers, and police officers, eventually to restaurant and hospitality workers and the general public.

Second: This process will take several months.

“We’ve got a long way to go between now and when we get this [pandemic] under control,” says Prisma Health President Mark O’Halla. He adds that health officials are combatting “two enormous undertakings – a massive surge of patients, while simultaneously undertaking the single biggest vaccination program in the history of the country.”

Third: In order to get vaccinated, you need to make an appointment. The main way is through the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Links for making an appointment and to other vaccine-related questions are at the bottom of this story.

Do not call doctors offices or pharmacies directly. They do not have access to any appointment schedules.

Fourth: Although hospital systems around the state are busily giving thousands of vaccinations every day, getting everyone vaccinated will take time.

“There are approximately 5 million people in the state of South Carolina,” O’Halla says. “If every single person decides to take the vaccine, we would need 10 million doses in order to vaccinate everyone with both shots.”

Although the rollout for vaccinations is happening, health officials are limited by the amount of vaccine they are getting. South Carolina receives about 64,000 doses of COVID vaccine from the manufacturer per week. That is a small dent in 10 million. So getting everyone vaccinated will take time. Health officials currently estimate that most people will not be fully vaccinated until at least this summer. So they are asking everyone to be patient.

Fifth: Health officials are adamant that the vaccine is safe and effective. They are also adamant that reactions have been minimal.

“Thus far, we have had only three moderate reactions and zero severe reaction,” following 22,000 vaccinations given by Prisma Health through mid-January, says Dr. Saria Saccocio of Prisma Health.

Until you can get both vaccination shots, health officials remind – you can still get sick from COVID. Until you get the first shot, and possibly even after, you can still carry Covid and give it to other people.

So for at least the first half of 2021, health officials will continue to beat a familiar drum – keep properly socially distanced. Wash your hands often. Wear a mask over your mouth and nose. Especially when you’re inside in a public place. And avoid crowds as much as you can.

Prisma Health will open two large-scale COVID-19 vaccination sites on Monday, Jan. 18, in Columbia and Greenville.

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccine: scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-vaccine

To make an appointment to get vaccinated: scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-vaccine/covid-19-vaccine-appointments or visit prismahealth.org/vaccine

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio. Follow Scott on Twitter @ByScottMorgan and follow South Carolina Public Radio @SCPublicRadio and on Facebook.