S.C. 'Vaccinate & Vote' Program Under Fire

A federally funded group that promised flu shots on Election Day in six of South Carolina's poorest counties has drawn criticism from Republican leaders.

Carolina Medical Review (search) sent a bulk mailing earlier this month that said, "flu shots will be given in your county on Election Day. ... You don't have to vote to get a vaccine, and you don't have to get a vaccine to vote."

Four days later, news broke that British regulators had shut down a major supplier of the vaccine, cutting the U.S. supply of flu shots in half. Now, the Columbia-based group can't deliver on its Election-Day program.

The mailing to 46,000 Medicare recipients "borderlines on despicable," state Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson said Tuesday.

"The insinuation is that 'Come on and vote, and we'll vaccinate you for the flu.' That, in the electoral process, to me, just reeks of irresponsibility and certainly seems politically motivated to me," Dawson said.

Carolina Medical Review said the mailing was not politically motivated and was sent to areas with low vaccination rates based on federal health data. Spokeswoman Diana Zona said the organization has no political leanings.

But Republicans note the Democratic leanings in some of the targeted counties. South Carolina voted for President Bush in 2000 by 57 percent to 41 percent. Three of the counties -- Allendale, Bamberg and Orangeburg -- supported Gore by 60 percent or more and Bush carried nearby Calhoun County by just 153 votes. The other two counties were solidly in Bush's column.

"I don't know if it's a Democratic ploy or a dirty trick," Dawson said. But the concentration of Democratic-leaning counties "is something that is suspect at best."

State Democratic Party chairman Joe Erwin said his organization had nothing to do with the program and knew nothing about it until Wednesday. Still, there's nothing wrong with the concept of pairing immunizations and voting, he said.

"Those guys on the other side are on the defensive and are looking for some kind of Democratic (Party) conspiracy," Erwin said. He said Dawson needs to "give it up. Maybe he needs a flu shot."

The GOP asked Carolina Medical to mail letters to the same residents, telling them not to expect to vote and get a flu shot. Zona said there are no plans to do that, but her office is telling people who call that they should get vaccinated now.

Carolina Medical works under a $7.3 million federal contract to improve or encourage use of health programs, including immunizations and heart disease prevention.