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

Seniors Struggle to Get Vaccination Appointments as Variant Fears Spread

Seniors get vaccinated for Covid-19 at a drive-though site set up in the parking lot of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant.
Charlene Powers (left) and Jennifer Champy (right) have been helping seniors sign up for appointments to get Covid-19 vaccinations.

Seniors move with ease through a drive-up Covid vaccination site in the Seacoast Church parking lot of Mount Pleasant.

Pharmacists huddle beneath tents, drawing every drop of the Pfizer vaccine from tiny vials as they load syringes.  Nearby, nurses cheerfully greet seniors as they pull up in cars and quickly get much needed shots into eager arms.

The Promise

The vaccination site is like an assembly line, a well-oiled machine.  If only making appointments to get to places like this was as easy.

"It takes sometimes hours and hours to get one appointment," says Jennifer Champy, a volunteer helping seniors.  "You keep refreshing and hoping a spot opens up."

Seniors get vaccinated for Covid-19 at a drive-though site set up in the parking lot of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant.
Credit Victoria Hansen/ SC Public Radio
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Seniors get vaccinated for Covid-19 at a drive-though site set up in the parking lot of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant. January 2021.

Champy has been staring at her computer screen for days.  She's trying to sign up a group of seniors, including her mom, for vaccinations.

Champy knows what it's like to navigate the healthcare system alone. She has a rare, life-threatening lung disease called Tracheobronchomalacia or TBM.  It makes breathing extremely difficult.  She founded a non-profit to help others with the same condition; Cure TBM.

The Reality 

She says the system to sign up for vaccines is complicated, even more so for seniors. Many know little about computers, smart phones or email.

"My heart is shattered for all the people that I think of who don't have the connections, of knowing someone who knows someone who knows how to do it."

Campy has been working around the clock to make appointments for dozens of seniors in her Sun City community.  She says some desperately need surgery but must wait until they are vaccinated.

She scours the internet and sets up multiple email accounts in her name for seniors who don't have them.  It's the only way they can register.  The process is tedious and time consuming. 

Finally, Campy gets appointments for everyone.

"When I did, Beaufort cancelled them all," she says.  "So, that was not so great."

"Yeah, it's frustrating for the patients," says Kurt Gambla, the Chief Medical Officer for Beaufort Memorial Hospital.  

"It's frustrating for us because we try to schedule based on what we think we will have."

The Problem

Gambla says the hospital recently had to cancel 6,000 appointment because officials thought they would have more vaccine than they did.  They've reached out the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control as well as Pfizer and now know they can count on roughly 14 hundred vaccine doses a week.

But is that enough, especially now that the governor has expanded eligibility to those 65 and older?  What about new variants that have recently turned up in South Carolina, in the Lowcountry no less?  These mutations are said to spread more easily.

"Eventually we will get the vaccine in everybody's arm that needs it," says Gambla. 

"But for the foreseeable future there is going to be a backlog. There are going to be more people scheduled, more people wanting it than we have in a week."

In the meantime, Gambla recommends people continue to wear masks and socially distance.

"It's hard and I know everyone is doing the best they can," says Champy.  "Our seniors are our most prized possessions, or they should be, and they should be taken care of better than this."

The Wait

Champy says she has found new appointments for her growing group of seniors, although some are as far out as April.  She encourages others to volunteer and help seniors who are struggling, like her mother once did.

"It's been crazy with my friends," says Charlene Powers.  She's Champy's 80-year-old mother.

"They just have no knowledge. It's all rumors, like somebody will say I think you have to do this, or I think you have to do that."

Powers lives with her daughter whose life threatening illness has compromised her immune system.  She worries more about getting her daughter sick than she does her own health.

She says she misses being with friends, but she knows what she wants to do first, once she and her daughter are fully vaccinated.

"I'm looking forward to going to church.  That's my dream."

Until the pandemic, Powers says she had not missed a day of church in 50 years.