Gov. Henry McMaster urged South Carolina hospitals to speed up vaccination efforts during a Tuesday visit to Conway Medical Center’s Socastee location as patients received doses of the vaccine downstairs.

“The main point is we have allocations from the federal government, but the hospitals need to speed the line more quickly,” McMaster said. “We need to have more people coming in and giving more shots. Some of the hospitals have not been asking for all that they’re allowed to ask for. We’re expecting all hospitals to use up the first dose and second dose that they get at different times during the week, to use them up and be empty. Use all of them.”

But over the weekend, hospitals were sounding the alarm for more vaccines.

On Friday, the South Carolina Hospital Association said that its members would be getting fewer vaccine doses this week than they requested. “The state expects to receive the same amount of Pfizer vaccine next week that we have been getting, but hospital requests this week totaled four times that amount,” the SCHA said. “Hospitals will receive 100% of the second doses they requested but only 20-25% of the first doses they specified.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to accelerate the distribution of these vaccines as part of the state’s vaccination plan,” the association added. “We need more vaccines from Washington in order to get the job done.”

Tidelands Health, which along with Conway Medical Center is vaccinating patients 70 years of age or older, has received more than 30,000 requests for vaccinations. The health system said on Saturday it was hiring up to 200 temporary workers to help administer the vaccine. That followed an order from South Carolina regulators allowing retired physicians, nurses and medical students to help administer the critical shots.

“At this moment, the only limiting factor is the availability of vaccine from the government,” the hospital said in the news release. “Like all South Carolina hospitals, we have been told to expect less vaccine — not more — in the coming weeks. We are calling on our state leaders to do all they can to secure additional vaccine for the people of South Carolina. Tidelands Health stands ready to deliver this lifesaving vaccine to our community – as soon as we have the vaccine available to do so.” 

According to DHEC, hospitals have administered about 69% of the 200,075 doses that have been distributed to the facilities so far. The exact number varies by hospital. As of Monday, Conway Medical Center had used up 78% of its doses, and Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital had used up 37%. 

Although not every dose has yet been administered, DHEC Interim Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler said Friday the state’s entire supply that had not been administered had already been earmarked for future appointments.  

On Tuesday, Tidelands Health also said its entire inventory had already been allocated. The health system said it anticipated vaccinating about 3,000 adults age 70 or older by the end of the week, and planned to continue vaccinating 3,000 elderly patients per week as part of Phase 1a

“What the governor’s office wanted, and I’m not sure it was clearly communicated to begin with, was that as soon as they get all the doses, they get it into people’s arms as quickly as possible,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach. “The hospitals thought they had to hold back some for second doses, which wasn’t the case; they would automatically get the second dose a couple weeks later once they gave the first doses.” 

According to Centers from Disease Control and Prevention data, South Carolina has received a total of 6,808 vaccine doses per 100,000 people, which is the lowest per-capita rate in the United States. But South Carolina’s allocation, which is based on the adult population of 18 years old and older, is where it should be, McMaster said.

“We’re precisely in accordance with our pro rata population 18 and over,” the governor said. 

Since South Carolina doesn’t have the lowest adult population in the country, the discrepancy between the state’s allocation and the amount of vaccine that has actually been distributed caused Horry and Georgetown’s state delegations to send a letter to the area’s federal delegation over the weekend asking for help to get more doses. 

“It was important to highlight the need for vaccines in South Carolina,” said state Rep. Russell Fry, R-Surfside Beach. “If you look at the CDC’s own numbers, per-capita distributions are down and we are last in the country for per-capita distribution from the CDC. We wanted to highlight this issue to our federal partners so that they could help and assist South Carolina in getting their fair share of the vaccine.” 

The letter was sent to Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, as well as Rice. 

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