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Berkeley County, one of the state’s fastest-growing and most populous counties, has one of the lowest rates of vaccinations so far despite
“repeated requests” for more shots, officials said this week.

With 171,901 residents aged 15 and over, Berkeley County is the eighth-most populated county in South Carolina — right behind York County in the Charlotte metro area and ahead of Anderson County, a suburb of Greenville, the state’s biggest. Between 2010 and 2019, the area grew by 29%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But so far this year, Berkeley County ranks near the bottom in COVID-19 vaccinations per capita and vaccine dose allocation per capita. It is 43rd out of 46 counties in both metrics, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

“Berkeley County has made repeated requests to DHEC for an allocation of vaccines that we can administer directly to our residents,” Berkeley County Emergency Management Director Ben Almquist told City Paper on Wednesday in a statement. “Berkeley County has already been approved as a vaccine provider and we have an active plan that covers all of the logistical needs to get shots to the people that want them.”

While 31.4% of South Carolina residents have gotten at least one vaccine shot as of Thursday’s count, that figure sits at just 21.39% for Berkeley County. Next door, Charleston County has been allocated enough vaccine doses for more than 57% of its residents, while Berkeley has enough for 31.75%.

Since the start of the pandemic, 184 Berkeley County residents have died due to COVID-19, according to state figures.

During a March 26 press conference, DHEC Senior Deputy for Public Health Nick Davidson speculated the vaccination rate disparity may be because of the rural county’s low population density, but could not pinpoint a specific reason for the drop-off compared to nearby urban and suburban counties. DHEC had held “brainstorming sessions” about low-rate counties, according to Davidson, who said the agency wanted to “work with local officials to do whatever we can to try to serve those communities better.”

Whatever the reason, Berkeley officials said they have told the state plainly they just aren’t getting the vaccine doses they need.

“The current vaccine distribution model from DHEC doesn’t work for Berkeley County and we have explained that to them several times,” Almquist said. “We are ready and able to get vaccines to the people of Berkeley County, but we need DHEC to step up and be a better partner in this.”

In a statement Thursday in response to City Paper questions, a State Emergency Response Team spokesperson pointed to local vaccination efforts by DHEC and Roper St. Francis Hospital.

“We are looking to see what we can do with existing providers to boost availability,” the spokesperson said.