As the holidays draw near, DHEC urges South Carolinians to get vaccinated and to be upfront about vaccination status with friends and family. Photo by Ashton Van Ness

With the announcement Wednesday that the COVID-19 variant, Omicron, has made its way to the United States, South Carolina officials are stressing the importance of getting vaccinated in preparation for the holiday season. 

The virus hit its peak last winter. On Jan. 6, 2021, which remains the highest single day case count, the state saw 7,686 cases, according to Dr. Brannon Traxler, the public health director for S.C. DHEC. 

“Luckily, because of vaccines, we do not have to repeat last year. With abundant access statewide to these life-saving vaccines, we’re hopeful that we won’t even come close to seeing the deadly spike that we saw last holiday season and shortly afterwards,” Traxler said during a press conference Wednesday.

Although the Omicron variant has been detected in the United States, no cases have been reported yet in South Carolina, Traxler said. Because of the recent detection of the variant, not much is known about the severity of it.

“Currently, we don’t have confirmed data about the transmissibility, the clinic presentation to beat severity, vaccine or treatment effectiveness or much else about Omicron. However, regardless of Omicron or Delta or any other variant, the actions you can take to protect yourself and protect others remains the same — vaccinations, masks, testing and physical distancing,” Traxler said.

Children ages 5 to 11 became eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine in late October and many are becoming eligible for their second dose. Around 7% of South Carolina kids have received their first dose and under 1% are fully vaccinated, according to Traxler. She emphasized the importance of vaccination in protecting children over winter break.

“I do wish that we would see a faster increase in the uptake of the vaccine in the 5 to 11 year olds,” Traxler said. “Every child and every teacher in schools are now eligible for vaccination, and so we know that’s the best way to keep them safe and in person and in school.”

Traxler encouraged family and friends to not shy away from discussing vaccination status and recommended DHEC’s list of vaccination conversation starters

“Because of these incredibly effective and safe, life-saving vaccines, we don’t have to repeat history, and we can leave last January as the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us,” she said.