DHEC experts say it could take months before most South Carolinians can get a COVID-19 vaccine
This comes despite Pfizer-BioNTech's plan to file for emergency authorization to mass produce doses this week
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — Several companies are on the doorstep of getting federal approval for their COVID-19 vaccines, but South Carolina experts say it could take some time before everyone can get their shots.
In the last week, Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership have announced that their vaccines have been more than 90% effective at preventing COVID-19. The CEO of BioNTech said he plans on filing an emergency use authorization (EUA) with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to mass produce the vaccine, saying 50 million doses could be ready to go by the end of this year, and 1.3 billion could be ready by next year.
Dr. Jane Kelly, the Assistant State Epidemiologist for South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), said it could take at least two weeks for the FDA to approve a EUA.
“The FDA mechanism for reviewing all the documents, there could be hundreds of documents of pages of documents to review from preclinical studies to animal studies through Phase 1, 2, and 3 human studies, a lot of safety and efficacy data to be reviewed,” Dr. Kelly said.
Even if the FDA gives Pfizer the green light to mass produce the vaccine, the doses have to be stored in what are called “ultra-cold” conditions, roughly -112 degrees Fahrenheit (-80 degrees Celsius). Moderna’s could be stored in temperatures as cold as -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius), but can stay in refrigerated conditions for 30 days, as opposed to Pfizer’s, which could only last for five.
According to DHEC Immunization Coordinator Stephen White, at least 175 organizations have signed up to be vaccination distribution sites, but they need to go through a thorough vetting process, which includes whether they can store dry ice and accommodate for those colder conditions, before they get approval.
DHEC officials say they are unaware of how many vaccine doses the state will receive at first, but that health care workers, essential employees, and those at the most risk of getting severely sick will get top priority. For the Pfizer vaccine, people would need to receive two doses. DHEC said they will keep track of people who get their shots, and remind them when it’s time to get dose #2.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said that cost will not be a barrier to receive the vaccine, since the federal government is working to give out the vaccine at no cost, and insurance providers could cover any additional costs.
Either way, experts say at least 90% of the population needs to get vaccinated before folks can stop worrying about social distancing or wearing masks.
“The faster that we can get the population covered, the more quickly we can move to what we’re all looking forward to and that is more normalized activities,” said Dr. Bell.
For more information on the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, click here.