A Five-step Look at South Carolina’s COVID-19 Vaccination Process

Vaccine makers, the federal government, state, local, and territorial jurisdictions, and other partners are working to make sure safe and effective vaccines are getting to you as quickly as possible. This page will help you understand the key steps in this important process.

1. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sends vaccine to all 50 states

  • Each week CDC sends all 50 states a limited amount of vaccine. The amount a state gets can change without much notice.
  • Vaccine makers check the quality of each vaccine batch; if there is a question about the quality, that batch is delayed or destroyed. This affects the maker’s output and can impact how much vaccine the CDC sends states. 
  • Because vaccine is limited, states created phased plans that prioritize who can get their COVID-19 shots at certain times. South Carolina’s No. 1 goal is to save lives, so those most likely to become severely ill from COVID-19 are eligible to get their shots first.
  • The CDC also sends vaccine to federal organizations in South Carolina, like Veteran's Affairs, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Department of Defense. The CDC sends vaccines to Indian Health Services for the six tribal nations in South Carolina.
  • The CDC decides how much vaccine to send to each state based on: (1) how much vaccine is available; (2) how quickly states use the vaccine they have (3) how many people aged 65 and older are in each state.

2. Each week, DHEC works with the South Carolina Hospital Association and our state’s healthcare facilities and vaccine providers to decide how many doses they need and where they should go.

  • Vaccine providers have until 11:59 p.m. on Mondays to submit vaccine requests for the next week to DHEC using the federal Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). Because vaccine is limited, providers are not likely to get the total amount requested.
  • DHEC does not learn how much vaccine the state will get until a few hours after providers have placed their order requests. On Tuesday afternoons, the CDC notifies South Carolina of the total number of doses the state will receive for the following week. 
  • From Tuesday through Thursday, DHEC decides how much vaccine to send to each provider who made a request.
  • By late Friday, vaccine providers can log into VAMS to see how much vaccine they will receive the following week.
  • By Friday evening, the vaccine makers begin shipping vaccine orders for first doses, and shipments begin arriving in South Carolina as early as the following Monday.
  • DHEC places orders for second doses separately from first doses, and they must order enough second doses to match first doses from the previous three or four weeks, depending on the vaccine used. This is how we make sure everyone who got a first dose will get a second dose. 
  • By the weekend, DHEC must tell the CDC how much vaccine to send to each of the large pharmacies in South Carolina who are giving vaccine in two weeks. 
  • By Monday evening, the vaccine makers begin shipping vaccine orders for second doses, and shipments begin arriving in South Carolina as early as the following Wednesday. 
  • Some providers get their own supply of vaccine directly from the CDC. They order vaccine as they need it, and it doesn’t take away from the other doses that South Carolina gets each week. 

3. Most vaccine providers in South Carolina receive their shipments directly from the vaccine makers, although some doses get re-shipped to other locations.

  • DHEC also gets a shipment of vaccine each week, and those doses are sent to smaller vaccine providers across the state who don’t get their vaccine shipments directly from the vaccine maker.
  • Some large hospitals send their weekly vaccine doses to their smaller locations around the state. Not all locations can store the Pfizer vaccine at the currently required ultra-cold temperatures. So a hospital’s main hub that has ultra-cold storage may get vaccine doses and then send small amounts of those doses to some of its other locations around the state. 
    • This means it could take another day or two for a provider to get their vaccine.

4. Vaccine providers plan carefully before they give shots to ensure South Carolinians are receiving their shots as safely and quickly as possible.

  • Before anyone can give a COVID-19 vaccine shot, they must be a trained and enrolled provider. Learn about that process here.
  • Currently, the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures for long periods of time, or at regular frozen temperatures for about two weeks. Before it can be used, it has to be properly thawed and prepared. Once that happens, the Pfizer vaccine has to be used within 6 hours. This means providers need to carefully plan how many doses they will prepare at one time and ensure they have the right number of people ready to get shots so that not a single dose gets wasted. 

5. Vaccine providers report  information about every dose they give in a secure system. 

  • Providers must report specific information within 24 hours of giving every dose; pharmacies have 72 hours to report their vaccine information. As a result, one to three days pass before DHEC has all the information about vaccine use in our state. 
  • DHEC reports the information it gets from our state’s vaccine providers on its vaccine allocation webpage, which is updated daily.
  • These are new vaccines and this is a new process. The CDC, states and vaccine providers are getting faster and more efficient at the entire vaccine issuing process. But the important thing is to do this right. As vaccine becomes more widely available across the county, more and more people will be able to get shots faster than ever.  


COVID-19 Statewide