Starting next week, South Carolina will distribute COVID-19 vaccine doses to each of the state’s four regions on a per capita basis, while also factoring in various demographic and disease factors.
The change in vaccine allocation, which is required by recently enacted legislation, is expected to lead to a more equitable distribution of doses throughout the state and ensure residents in rural areas are not left behind.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s new model takes a region’s relative population as the starting point for dose allocations and then considers six other variables in its formula for determining how doses will be dispersed, DHEC senior deputy for public health Nick Davidson explained Thursday during a presentation to the agency’s board.
The factors considered in addition to regional population are the percentage of residents age 55 and older; the percentage of minority residents; the percentage of residents who live below the poverty line; the region’s prevalence of diabetes and hypertension; the region’s two-week COVID-19 infection rate; and the percentage of residents who are unvaccinated.
“We believe that does our best job of taking into consideration those considerations that the legislature said we must take into account,” Davidson said.
He didn’t specify how much weight each variable in DHEC’s allocation formula would be given, but said the region’s infection rate and its rate of unvaccinated residents would carry more weight than the other four factors, which are all weighted equally.
When the demographic and disease variables are factored in, South Carolina’s Lowcountry and Pee Dee regions will receive more doses than their populations alone would dictate, the Upstate will receive less and the Midlands’ allocation will be unaffected.
Davidson said the doses any region receives will not vary by more than 5% from what it would get under a strictly per capita distribution.
In addition to incorporating regional population and COVID-19 risk factors in its new distribution formula, DHEC also will form regional panels composed of vaccine providers and a representative group of community leaders who will help the agency identify gaps in allocation and find ways to fill those gaps.
“Who’s to say that a state entity knows what’s best for every corner of the state,” Davidson said. “And so, while we are clearly intending to do better with the way that we allocate vaccine, we also need help from our local communities.”
The CARE panels, as they will be called, are expected to help DHEC better understand the needs of communities and enable the agency to quickly redeploy vaccine, staffing and logistics resources accordingly.
“That team of people with those resources … can now work together to hopefully compare notes and have discussions about how we should be doing business, or how they should be doing business in those communities,” Davidson said.
Up to this point, DHEC has dispersed doses based on vaccine supply, provider requests and the rate at which providers administer doses.
The current distribution model has favored populous urban counties with large hospitals while disadvantaging rural counties and counties that lack sprawling health care systems, according to an analysis of DHEC data.
As of Thursday, the Upstate had received the greatest proportion of vaccine doses of any region at 28.7%, followed in order by the Midlands (25.7%), the Lowcountry (24.8%) and the Pee Dee (20.9%), according to DHEC data.
Once the new allocation model kicks in next week, the Midlands will receive the largest number of doses each week (29%), followed by the Lowcountry (27.1%), the Upstate (24.3%) and the Pee Dee (19.6%).
South Carolina has received more than 1.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to date and administered nearly 1.3 million of them.
More than 815,000 residents have received at least one dose and more than 461,000 of the state’s 4.1 million residents age 15 and older, or about 11%, are fully vaccinated.
The supply of vaccine doses flowing into the state each week has increased considerably over the past month but remains the limiting factor to getting shots in arms.
South Carolina is expecting to receive 115,490 first doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine next week, Davidson said. After getting 41,100 doses of the recently authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week, the state has not been shipped any more of the one-dose shots and is not expecting to get any next week, he said.