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To speed COVID-19 vaccinations, South Carolina mulls limiting elective surgeries again

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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on Monday warned of a move to shut down elective surgeries in a bid to free up hospital staff and administer more COVID-19 vaccines, according to a report.

The news comes after McMaster penned a letter last week to the South Carolina Hospital Association, asking hospitals to voluntarily lower the number of nonessential procedures amid staff shortages and a rising demand for a faster vaccination pace. Fox News has requested comment from the association.

“Right now we have doses that have not been given that are sitting on the shelf,” McMaster said Monday, per The Post and Courier. “That ends. That is over. We’re not doing that anymore … even if I have to order ending elective surgeries in some hospitals to free up staff to give those shots.”

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According to state data, South Carolina has administered 163,800 doses of 317,975 received shots, or just over half of its vaccine supply. A voluntary pause of elective surgeries early last spring dropped hospitals’ earnings and brought along staff layoffs, the outlet reported, adding that many hospitals restarted the services two months later.

One hospital executive said the issue lies in predictable supply, instead of staffing.

“Predictable supply continues to be the thing that limits the ability to go faster,” Tod Augsburger, Lexington Medical Center CEO, told the outlet. The hospital reportedly received 950 doses on Jan. 11, and 3,000 the week prior.

The hospital has used at least 60% of its supply, lagging behind the statewide average of 65% among large hospitals, the outlet wrote, citing state data. Meanwhile, four hospitals have administered less than half of their supply.

South Carolina expanded vaccine eligibility to those aged 70 and up last week, though the Trump administration, in a bid to speed up COVID-19 vaccination efforts, asked states to widen distribution to include people 65 and older. The federal supply of weekly doses for South Carolina will reportedly remain at about 63,000. McMaster hopes an uptick in manufacturers’ production pace, and other companies’ vaccines working down the pipeline toward approval, will bring some relief.

On Monday, McMaster tweeted that he was visiting hospitals to witness distribution. 

“Today I began visiting hospitals in our state to see first-hand how they’re handling the significant responsibility of vaccinating South Carolinians,” he tweeted. “Some hospitals are doing a great job. Others aren’t. We MUST speed this process up, and we will.” 

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In an update on the same day, the South Carolina Department of Health Environmental Control said 100% of the vaccines available in the state have already been given or are scheduled to be given. Eligible residents are encouraged to continue scheduling their appointments so that when more doses become available they can be given quickly and efficiently. 

Dr. Brannon Traxler, interim public health director, also refuted reports of dose wastage but said officials will continue monitoring surveillance data. 

State data shows a percent positivity exceeding 17%, and nearly a quarter of the state’s total deaths were reported in the last 30 days. Hospitalizations continued to increase over the last month, with over 2,300 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19, and over 400 in intensive care.

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