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Coronavirus Vaccinations Underway In Florida

TGH nurse Vanessa Arroyo, 31, is believed to be the first Floridian to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
TGH nurse Vanessa Arroyo, 31, is believed to be the first Floridian to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Florida health workers are starting to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Vanessa Arroyo, a 31-year-old nurse in Tampa General Hospital's COVID-19 unit was among the first in the state to get an initial dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday morning.

The hospital received about 20,000 doses.

"This is 20,000 doses of hope," said TGH CEO John Couris. "This is the beginning to the end. This is monumental, if you are sitting in our shoes caring for the patients that need us the most."

All who received the vaccine today will need a booster in a few weeks for it to be fully effective.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was there for the event. He said boosters have been allocated for every dose shipped this week but that they won't arrive until they are needed later this month.

He said health care personnel around the state who work with high-risk patients and nursing home residents are first in line for the Pfizer vaccine.

DeSantis said if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes the Moderna vaccine this week, the state should get about 365,000 doses.

“That is going to continue to help serve our long-term care mission but also start, hopefully as the frontline health workers have this available, to start getting it out to the elderly population outside of long-term care facilities,” he said.

Tampa General is one of five hospitals in the state receiving the first wave of Pfizer doses. The others include AdventHealth Orlando, UF Health Jacksonville, Jackson Memorial in Miami and Memorial West in Broward County.

All agreed to share their supply with other health systems in their regions.

“After 10 long months of responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic, today marks a significant turning point," Mary Mayhew, President of the Florida Hospital Association and former head of Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, said in a statement.

"The first allocation of 179,400 vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Florida this week heralds not only a major scientific achievement but a beacon of hope on the horizon."

The state government, CVS and Walgreens are also receiving shipments this week which will support vaccination efforts at long-term care facilities.

DeSantis said all seniors and people with serious health problems or multiple comorbidities are next up in terms of vaccine priorities.

He did not mention any specific plans to prioritize Black and Latino residents, who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Plans for other essential workers or vulnerable communities did not come up either.

DeSantis said he is hoping a single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will aid in efforts to get the general population immunized, but it likely won’t be ready for FDA consideration until next year.

“But as we get into potentially February you could be in a situation where there's going to be a vaccine available for people regardless of circumstances or health risks or age — probably not before that and maybe not quite at that point, but that is very possible,” he said.

Most health experts aren't projecting widespread availability until late spring or summer, even with other vaccines on the horizon.

Dr. Charles Lockwood, TGH executive vice president and dean of the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine, called the vaccine's arrival a "magic moment." But he told Floridians it is not the moment to relax with safety measures.

“Please keep wearing masks, socially distancing, avoiding large gatherings," Lockwood said. "We're almost there.”

A key factor in how quickly Florida can vaccinate its residents is whether the state will receive thousands of additional doses from Pfizer later this month. DeSantis said that was expected but is now up in the air.

If all shipments come through as planned, the governor said Florida could have a million doses by the end of the year.
Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said he signed for the vaccine packages when FedEx delivered them in Tampa on Monday.
Florida Division of Emergency Management /
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Gov. Ron DeSantis said he signed for the vaccine packages when FedEx delivered them in Tampa on Monday.
The Pfizer vaccine must be refrigerated at extremely cold temperatures.
Florida Division of Emergency Management /
/
The Pfizer vaccine must be refrigerated at extremely cold temperatures.