March 26, 2021
By Michael M. DeWitt, Jr.
The Augusta Chronicle
The USA Today Network
Armed with dedication and the power of modern medicine, they are waging a war on many fronts.
SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 are the enemy, and the battleground is rural Hampton County. But these fighters must also go up against limited technology, a lack of knowledge and a lack of trust in their battle to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Meet the vaccine warriors. They are in every community, working diligently to help get as people vaccinated against COVID-19 as possible so Hampton County – as well as the state and the nation – can stop the death toll, slow the spread, and open up our towns and cities safely so we can one day return to normal life.
“Our staff is very passionate about ensuring that every member of the community has access to their COVID vaccination,” said Suzanne Metro, Marketing Affiliations Manager at Hampton Regional Medical Center (HRMC) in Varnville. “It’s definitely been a team effort. HRMC and EMS have been very passionate about doing this as efficiently and rapidly as possible. We have lost too many community members in the last year.”
HRMC has been the active, central hub in Hampton County’s vaccination effort, and Melanie Wooten, a registered nurse and Quality Assurance Coordinator, is in charge of the massive vaccination clinic effort. As of Wednesday, March 24, HRMC alone had administered 3,459 doses of the county’s total dose rate of 3,831.
“Susanne Peeples, Chris Altman and their staff have been huge in this role, and they even help people with the paperwork,” said Wooten. “The EMS manpower and partnership has been massive. Mr. Tom Watson has also been very helpful in getting the National Guard to help, and with coordinating.”
Hospital workers, local doctors, Hampton County EMS, the S.C. National Guard and even private individuals are all working to aid in the vaccination effort. These volunteers are helping get citizens registered for the vaccine, offering information, helping with technology like setting up email accounts for elderly people, and in some cases even providing transportation to vaccination clinics.
“We have also seen a big help from churches and individual volunteers,” Wooten added. “There has been a grassroots effort to reach out to elderly neighbors, and we have also had a lot of help from primary care providers.”
HRMC has used social media to help spread the word about clinics, and have worked with local churches and community organizations to get the word out and help people register for vaccines. Wooten praised churches like the First Thankful Baptist Church in Nixville for leading the effort in the Nixville community, and Belinda Cooler and her family for leading the grassroots effort in the Estill community.
“We don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks,” Metro added.
At HRMC, organizers have the vaccination process almost “down to a science,” as the expression goes. Here is the process.
Vaccines are ordered from the state, in exact numbers, about two to three weeks in advance of any scheduled clinic. HRMC uses the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, which is reportedly very similar to the vaccine used by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Two doses, three weeks apart, are required.
Citizens register online or in person in advance of the clinic. Since only roughly 68 percent of county residents have broadband Internet, HRMC uses the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) and residents are encouraged to use a central email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to set up an appointment when their age group is allowed. You can also call the hospital if you don’t have access to email, but emails are preferred.
Wooten and Kim Sullivan, an infection control and employee health nurse, monitor the email daily and book the appointments.
“Anyone can request an appointment on behalf of another person,” Wooten said. “We want the community’s help with this.”
On appointment day, people enter the hospital through the Emergency Room on the west end of the campus, where they are screened for fever or signs of illness, and asked to sanitize their hands.
At Station 1, people are checked in to confirm their appointment and complete paperwork.
At Station 2, Hampton County EMS staff administer the injections.
At Station 3, anyone who needs a second shot is allowed to set up an appointment, and additional information is collected if needed.
Station 4 is the hospital cafeteria, which is not currently serving food to the public. After the shot, people are monitored for any possible side effects or allergic reactions: 15 minutes if there is no history of allergies, and 30 minutes if someone has a history of allergic reactions. A HRMC nurse is on hand to monitor people, and once they are clear, they are allowed to exit the campus through the cafeteria doors on the east side.
Fortunately, HRMC has seen no major side effects or reactions since the local clinics began.
All stations are cleaned and sanitized after each person.
South Carolina is currently in stage 1-B of its vaccination plan, which makes vaccines available to people 55 and older, people with certain health conditions, and essential front line workers, including teachers and daycare workers. HRMC is already partnering with local school districts to get their staff vaccinated.
Soon, the vaccine will be available to anyone over 16 who wants it. Every Hampton County resident is advised to take a vaccine when it is available to you, and HRMC also plans to get the vaccines “on the ground” in outlying areas like Estill and Yemassee if needed.
“Don’t fear the vaccine,” Wooten advises people. “It has been proven to be safe and effective, and the alternative of contracting COVID-19 is much worse. Continue to wear your masks, and be conscious of your neighbors. Do what you can to help your neighbors and others get the vaccine.”