Pharmacists, health care providers join statewide effort to curb declining youth vaccination numbers

The Dept. of Health and Human Services gave pharmacists in all 50 states the power to vaccinate children

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — As children across the state get ready to go back to some form of learning this fall, some have not gotten the necessary shots needed to go back to the classroom.

At a Reopen SC Select Committee hearing on August 12, Dr. Joan Duwve, the Public Health Director for South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), told lawmakers there has been a significant drop in the number of school-age children receiving routine vaccinations.

As a result of doctor’s offices closing due to COVID-19, vaccination staff being moved to immediate pandemic response, and fewer orders of vaccines being put in by medical providers, Dr. Duwve said as opposed to this point last year, 50% fewer children in South Carolina have gotten their shots.

In a statement, State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said in part:

“Vaccination is one of the most successful public health interventions in history for reducing disease spread and preventing complications and deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases. With COVID-19’s prevalence across our state, we need to keep our children healthy and safe at all costs, and we must use the vaccines that medical science has afforded us to help prevent illnesses likes mumps, measles, chicken pox, and whooping cough.”

According to DHEC, all school-age children must be to up-to-date with the following vaccines: Hepatitis C, DTap (tetanus, whooping cough), Polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and Varicella (chickenpox). Students in 5K are required to get a Hepatitis B shot, while any student entering the seventh grade needs a TDap shot (whooping cough booster).

The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that pharmacists in all 50 states can now administer these shots to children. 

Ron Guida with the South Carolina Pharmacy Association said pharmacists across the state would have to do an additional hour of training to administer these shots, particularly for younger children, but told ABC Columbia it’s something they are qualified and willing to do.

“You’ve got a pharmacy usually within about 5-10 minutes of anybody in the state,” Guida said. “About 49% of the state does not have a medical home as far as kids go, so that’s a big impetus for us to be able to help DHEC to get the kids vaccinated.” 

Others are taking a hands-on approach to get more children vaccinated.

First Choice by Select Health has teamed up with the City of Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department to distribute 500 backpacks to local families that include school supplies but also information on which shots their children need to get before coming back to school.

“It’s imperative to our children’s health to be well-prepared around other children and obviously prevent a plethora of diseases that can occur without immunizations. I think when we all work together, we can really reach those who need us the most,” said Courtnay Thompson, the Market Director for First Choice by Select Health.

According to the Columbia Parks and Recreation, First Choice by Select Health will have another backpack distribution event on Friday, August 28.

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