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Coronavirus Vaccinations Underway In Florida

TGH nurse Vanessa Arroyo, 31, is among the first Floridians to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
USF Health/Twitter
TGH nurse Vanessa Arroyo, 31, is among the first Floridians to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Now that the state has received initial shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, health workers and long-term care residents are getting their shots. More doses from Moderna could arrive as soon as next week.

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.

Tampa General, UF Health Jacksonville and Memorial Healthcare in Broward County each received shipments of around 20,000 doses Monday morning. Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and AdventHealth in Orlando will receive shipments Tuesday.

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

"This is 20,000 doses of hope," said Tampa General 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."

Gov. Ron DeSantis stands in a loading area as a FedEx delivery man unloads boxes of vaccines.
Florida Division of Emergency Management
Gov. Ron DeSantis said he signed for the vaccine packages when FedEx delivered them in Tampa on Monday.

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

Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Tampa 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.

“Today, we will have shots going into arms,” said DeSantis, who signed the FedEx delivery that brought the doses to Tampa General. “This is a game-changer. It’s a great day for the United States, it’s a great day for the state of Florida.”

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 Food and Drug Administration authorizes the Moderna vaccine this week, the state should get about 365,000 doses. On Tuesday, the FDA released a detailed analysis Moderna vaccine that supports the authorization for emergency use.

“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,” DeSantis said.

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

Health worker carefully handles boxes of vaccines.
Florida Division of Emergency Management
The Pfizer vaccine must be refrigerated at extremely cold temperatures.

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.

“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."

In Jacksonville, UF Health Jacksonville CEO Leon Haley, who is an emergency physician, received the first shot at that location Monday as those gathered around the hospital's lobby cheered.

“This is a humbling moment,” Haley told WJCT News partner News4Jax. “This is just the beginning of a long battle. We’ll still need to wear our masks. We’ll still need to wash our hands.”

Dr. Raul Pino, health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, says his staff is ready to help deliver the vaccines if asked to by the state.

“I want to ask for your patience and understanding, as we are going to engage in a logistic nightmare to try to deliver those vaccines to assisted living facilities, and other places that need it urgently,” Pino said during the county’s regular Monday pandemic briefing.

UF Health Jacksonville CEO Leon Haley became the first person in Jacksonville on Monday to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
News4Jax / WJCT
UF Health Jacksonville CEO Leon Haley became the first person in Jacksonville on Monday to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

In Tampa, 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 1 million doses by the end of the year.

Information from WJCT, WMFE and News Service of Florida was used in this report.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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