Walgreens is one of many drug stores in the area that is carrying the newest mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Kate Robins/Carolina News and Reporter)

More South Carolinians are shying away from getting the updated COVID-19 vaccine, causing the number of those receiving vaccinations to trend downward.

The federal Food and Drug Administration approved the new mRNA vaccine, which addresses the virus’ latest variant, in early September. 

About 5.5% of South Carolina residents 12 and older have gotten the updated vaccine in the two months it has been available.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control hasn’t seen an increased interest in receiving the vaccine, said Dr. Martha Buchanan, the lead medical consultant for DHEC.

“COVID has become less of a concern and less top of mind for people,” Buchanan said. “Our vaccination rates are trending down.”

Columbia resident Ira Trotter has not gotten the newest COVID-19 vaccine but has all of the previous ones. 

“I plan on probably taking it, but (I’m) just waiting,” Trotter said.

South Carolina falls below the national average for the percentage of people who have gotten the new vaccine.

But the state as well as others in the Southeast region tend to fall below the national average for vaccinations, such as the flu, Buchanan said.

Convenience and doubt are some reasons why people choose to not get vaccinated, she said. 

DHEC has been working since the start of the pandemic to partner with local agencies, such as pharmacies and local governments, to provide more access to vaccinations in rural areas.

Pharmacist Aaron Hearn has been working at area Walgreens stores for two years. 

People are starting to treat COVID-19 more and more like any other general cold, he said.

“Most people will get the flu and the COVID vaccine at the same time,” Hearn said. “But it’s definitely not as prominent as it was in the last three years.”

Younger crowds haven’t been as likely to receive the mRNA, while the older generations continued to get vaccinated every year, both Hearn and Buchanan said. 

Some of the youngest who are eligible also are not being vaccinated, possibly due to some parents deciding against it, Buchanan said.

Another Columbia resident Karen Russell has already gotten the new vaccine — something she always prioritizes when it comes out, she said.

“I got mine as soon as it came out,” Russell said. “I feel like it minimizes my chances, or if I did get it, it would be less severe.”

Both Trotter and Russell said they think people are suffering from vaccine fatigue.

“I think there was not a lot of belief in it,” Russell said. “I think they’re tired, and I think they question it.”

Part of DHEC’s role throughout the pandemic has been educating the public about the latest vaccines, Buchanan said. 

The hope is that by providing more information, people will want to take the step to get them, she said.

Anyone can take precautions against getting others sick, Buchanan said, such as regularly washing their hands or staying home when they’re sick. 

But getting the updated vaccine helps add another layer, she said.

Upcoming holidays and winter weather will provide some challenges.

“As we approach our respiratory season here in South Carolina, we anticipate the numbers going up, like they do every fall,” Buchanan said. “And the best protection for you and your family is to be up to date in your vaccine.”

A “vaccination area” sign is taped against a door at a Columbia drug store on Nov. 14, 2023. More South Carolina residents are leaning away from getting the updated COVID-19 vaccine as the virus becomes less of a concern among many residents. (Photo by Kate Robins/Carolina News and Reporter)

(Courtesy of South Carolina DHEC)