With more than 7,000 South Carolinians dead from Covid and an undercurrent of distrust about the two vaccines now available, experts across the nation and here in the Lowcountry are speaking with one voice:
We all need to get vaccinated.
In order to reach herd immunity, 70% of the population must become immune. Contracting Covid has proven to convey only short-term immunity, meaning that the vaccine is the only route. With children comprising 27% of the state population, nearly every adult will have to get vaccinated in order to protect everyone. A recent poll found that about a third of Americans do not plan to get vaccinated.
Getting everyone vaccinated has proven difficult with the first eligible group – those age 70+, some of whom had difficulty navigating the internet signup system or finding transportation to vaccination sites. Supply shortages have also plagued the system, with 45,300 fewer vaccines statewide than vaccination signups by the beginning of February. Those age 65-69 are now eligible to sign up, but shortages persist.
Add to that underserved communities that lack internet access, transportation, cell phones, and driver’s licenses, and have significant historical hesitancy about government-sponsored vaccines. That is making it all the more critical that those who can get vaccinated do so.
Family Doctor Advises Patients to Get Vaccinated
Dr. Valerie Scott, a Mt. Pleasant-based family physician with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners, says the vaccines are safe and effective, with allergy rates in the acceptable range. She says individuals who have experienced anaphylactic responses to other things like peanuts or latex should talk to their doctors about whether they should get vaccinated. They may have legitimate concerns about an allergic reaction to the shots or may just need to be monitored longer in a health care setting for a reaction immediately following the injection.
Scott says that although she must correct some patients’ misconceptions about the vaccines – e.g., that they contain formaldehyde or mercury — most of her patients are eager to receive it. For younger people who might be reticent because they are at such low risk of getting sick in the first place, she reminds them, “it is essential to get vaccinated. If you don’t feel at risk yourself, at least feel a civic responsibility to get out of these masks.”
Mass vaccination is the cure for mask fatigue, and for the economic funk facing the nation – and our tourism-dependent area – today. With millions of indoor retail and restaurant operations hamstrung by the inability of customers to patronize them, the Lowcountry Graduate Center reminds everyone that vaccinations are the first step to economic revitalization in the Charleston region.
Reaching Out to Those Facing Access Issues
For communities of color, low-income communities, undocumented workers and other marginalized groups, vaccination rates have lagged the rest of the population. Beside the many barriers to care, some older Black Americans are still shaken by a history of highly publicized abuses of Black patients by the health care system – notably the 40-year Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment in which Black men with syphilis were purposely left untreated by the U.S. Public Health Service, causing 128 preventable deaths.
In South Carolina, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has initiated community outreach to areas with poor access to care. By early February it had held 56 vaccination events in rural and underserved communities and vaccinated more than 6,400 people.
“Together, with our providers and community partners, our state is committed to using different approaches to ensure doses are getting in the arms of our most vulnerable and underserved citizens,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell.
Fetter Outreach in Low-Income and Rural Communities
The non-profit Fetter Healthcare Network, which serves low-income and rural families throughout the Lowcountry, has hosted Covid vaccination clinics at locations people can access, like local churches in North Charleston and Goose Creek, and community centers in rural St. Stephen and Pineville.
Unlike the online signup, Fetter’s outreach has been done through churches, their own clinics and non-profits serving low-income families. Their clinics do not require advance registration.
In Los Angeles, where the vaccination gap between rich and poor was even more alarming, Dr. Jerry Abraham and colleagues at Kedren Community Health Center found a way to get shots into residents who were left out of the official system.
“We need to figure out better ways to get to those who are shut out … workarounds for the website, workarounds for not having a cell phone and not having email and maybe not having a driver’s license because you’re an undocumented worker,” he said.