5,400 get COVID shots at Raceway

Gov. Henry McMaster confers with local, state and McLeod Health representatives at the Raceway on March 5. ALL PHOTOS BY BOBBY BRYANT

Patients arriving at the Darlington Raceway for their vaccines.

Medical personnel administers vaccines to those in attendance.

By Bobby Bryant, Editor


If the massive COVID vaccination event at Darlington Raceway on Friday had been a race, there would have been about 5,400 winners. That’s how many people got their initial dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the drive-through event, sponsored by McLeod Health and the Raceway. It’s being called the biggest single-day mass vaccination anyone has yet held in the Pee Dee. McLeod Health said 5,400 doses were available, and all were spoken for before the event even began. Appointments were required for the shots, and McLeod Health said all available slots were booked before Friday. The day’s event got an extra boost because people as young as 55 were allowed to get vaccinations; organizers got a special exemption to start the state’s new phase of vaccinations a little early. Officially, South Carolina did not lower the eligibility age from 65 or older to 55 or older until March 8. (Age hasn’t been a factor for people in high-risk groups, such as doctors and other front-line medical workers.) And Gov. Henry McMaster stopped at the Raceway about midday to tour the operation, pose for photos with beaming McLeod employees, and hold a news conference with officials representing the county, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, McLeod Health and the Raceway. “This is what South Carolina looks like,” McMaster told reporters. “This is what we look like. It’s this kind of people working together, helping each other … doing things that haven’t been done before, in the face of a crisis – that’s what makes South Carolina different.” “That’s how you get it done,” McMaster said. The governor praised the operation’s efficiency: “There is no slow line at Darlington, that’s for sure,” McMaster said. Asked how this summer looks for the state, the governor said: “Summer is going to be different from what it is now, unless there’s some new strain coming in that is not affected by this vaccine. … This is getting better every day. The numbers are going down. … The death rate is going down.” But, he added, “I think we’re going to have to be careful for a long time.” McLeod Health said it had received a surplus of Moderna doses for Friday’s event. The Moderna vaccine requires two doses spaced at least 28 days apart, and both doses have to be the same brand. Anyone who got their first dose at the Raceway should return for their second on Thursday, April 1. Officials estimated that during the event, about 500 people were getting vaccinated every hour. No problems were being reported as vehicles pulled into the Raceway’s open-air “garage,” where rows of vaccination stations had been set up, and nurses quickly checked paperwork and administered shots. Traffic waiting in line outside the Raceway reportedly was very heavy in the morning, but slowed somewhat in the afternoon. Making all this work were hundreds of McLeod Health volunteers, members of the National Guard, law-enforcement officers directing traffic in and out, Raceway employees and others. During the press conference, Raceway President Kerry Tharp thanked everyone involved with “this historic and momentous occasion.” “One of our track’s prime responsibilities is to be a community partner, and provide services to the people who live in this region and in this state,” Tharp told reporters. “We made it known earlier this year that the racetrack would be available to serve as a host site for a mass-vaccination event. We certainly believe that if you’re racing to get the vaccine out to people, there’s no better place to do it than at a racetrack.” Dr. Jeremy Robertson, chief medical officer for McLeod Regional Medical Center, said the science behind the vaccine being used at the Raceway is “sound and rigorous.” But he cautioned that the vaccine does not reach maximum effectiveness until one week after the second dose. He said it’s important that we keep following basic COVID safety rules, such as mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing. Dr. Edward Simmer, the recently appointed director of DHEC, also spoke at the news conference. “Make no mistake: Lives are being saved here in Darlington,” he said. “This is truly impressive,” Simmer said of the Raceway’s smooth flow Friday. “This is the kind of thing that’s going to get South Carolina through the COVID crisis.”

Author: Stephan Drew

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