YORK COUNTY, S.C. — South Carolina officially lowered its age requirement for COVID-19 vaccinations Monday, allowing all adults 65 and older, regardless of health conditions or living situation, to schedule appointments for their shot.
There is a limited supply of available vaccines, which will limit the number of appointments made. These new appointments come less than a week after Gov. Henry McMaster said teachers won't be moved up the priority list for vaccines. McMaster and state superintendent Molly Spearman both said they support reopening schools as soon as possible for in-person learning on a five days per week basis.
"Expanding vaccine access to those 65 and older is an essential step in our plan for saving lives," said Dr. Michael Kacka with DHEC.
In an interview with WCNC Charlotte's sister station in Columbia, WLTX, McMaster said holding off on vaccinating teachers was the ethical thing to do. The governor said seniors are dying at a higher rate and should be given priority over all other groups of the general population.
"What ethics and morality calls for is to protect our senior citizens who are the one who are at most danger and high risk of getting the disease and dying," McMaster said. "The average age of people who have died in our state is 75 years old. Over 88 percent of the people who have died are 61 or older. If we take younger, healthy people and put them in front of our seniors then we are depriving the people who may die from the disease of that protection, and giving it to someone is not going to die and might not even get sick. That is the wrong way to go and we're not going to do that in South Carolina."
But many teachers see their vaccinations as essential, as school districts work on plans to get students back in the classroom full time.
"Moving up on the list, I think that's one of the things that's going to have to be done to ensure we are able to go back in school for a full 5 days," said Nikkina McKnight, a Lancaster County high school teacher.
The main reason they believe vaccinations are critical is to make sure there are enough teachers available to teach. The state was already dealing with a shortage before COVID-19, made much worse by the pandemic. Local districts now juggling quarantines and teachers who took family leave out of fear of getting sick in the classroom.
"I think the teachers that are on leave or not in classroom because of being high risk, I think if we vaccinate everyone there's a better chance they'd come back and we could fill our classrooms with teachers again," said Jeff Venables, a Rock Hill teacher.
He understands the need to vaccinate the older population but thinks its possible to vaccinate teachers too. He'd feel a lot better having his classroom full again if he rolled up his sleeve first.
"When we start packing more students into the classroom and start getting everyone closer together, there's a greater risk for infection," said Venables.
More than a dozen clinics in the Charlotte area will be accepting appointments for vaccinations, including the Publix on Gold Hill Road in Fort Mill. Both York and Lancaster counties have at least six clinics. In Chester County, there are two.
Appointments must be made directly through the clinics. Information about these clinics, including hours and locations, can be found on the state's website. The state's health department hotline will also be taking calls at 1-866-365-8110. An operator will help callers find the clinic closest to their location.