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The Florida Roundup
News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Florida Awaits First Shipment of COVID-19 Vaccine

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Five Florida hospitals are in line to get the initial distribution of 100,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in the coming days. The remainder of that first allotment — 70,000 doses — goes to nursing home residents and staff.

In a matter of days, thousands of Floridians may be able to receive the first of two doses of the first COVID-19 vaccine. An FDA advisory panel endorsed the vaccine, and emergency use authorization from the FDA is imminent.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that Florida’s first allotment would be nearly 180,000 vials of the Pfizer vaccine. The governor says the state’s priority is long-term care patients. But the state’s rollout plan reserves more doses for healthcare workers and high-risk, high-contact environments. Those workers will get just over half of the vaccine's first supplies when it comes to Florida.


Long-term care facilities throughout the state are already making plans with CVS and Walgreens to distribute those vaccines. The state selected five Florida hospitals to ensure the logistics work to get the shots to front-line healthcare workers.

Dr. Michael Koren, CEO & medical director at the Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research, joined the Florida Roundup with host Tom Hudson to discuss the vaccine and the state's planned rollout.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

HUDSON: Dr. Koren, how about this twin priority that has been laid out by Governor DeSantis — with high-contact environment healthcare workers and long-term care facility patients, each of them kind of getting roughly half of the first batch of vaccines. Tell us a little bit about that strategy. What do you think of it?

KOREN: I think it makes a lot of sense. The way I like to break this down for folks is: there is exposure risk, and there's medical risk. And exposure risk is for people like me, who is dealing with the patients and folks that may have COVID-19. So we constantly deal with our exposure risk every day.

And then, the other group of people who have medical risks, either due to preexisting conditions, or most importantly, age. If you actually look at the breakdown of mortality-related infections, you find that for folks that are 24 years or less in the state of Florida, the likelihood of dying after contracting COVID-19 is, well less than one in 4000. If you're between 55 and 65 years of age, your likelihood of dying if you contract COVID-19 is somewhere around 145 to 150.

But if you're 85 years or older, the likelihood of dying if you contract the virus is actually one in four. So there's a huge difference in the risk of dying depending on your age. And certainly, we would call that the medical risk. I think it was a good balance between people that have exposure risk and people who have medical risk.

Dr. Koren, tell us a little bit about the [vaccine] side effects. Some of those side effects came out of the first round of inoculations in the United Kingdom that were launched this week.

I'll start with the United Kingdom reports that there were reports of two patients who had “allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine during the first distribution phase.” And what I will say is that in the clinical trials, folks that have multiple allergies or had immune system problems were excluded from the trial. So we didn't specifically look at that patient population.

Now, having said that, I think people that have concerns about allergies, or concerns about their immune system, and whether or not they are good candidates for participation will need to sit down with their primary physicians or personal physicians and make the decision about risk-benefit trade off for them individually.

Looking at the global study results, it turned out to be a very acceptable safety profile. So there was no difference between placebo and active injection of the vaccine, in terms of immediate reactions, within the first 30 minutes. And within the first seven days, the things that you saw in the vaccinated group are the kind of things you expect when you're having your immune system activated and taking any kind of vaccine.

So, there was an increased risk of muscle soreness at the location of the vaccine, of redness in the location of the vaccine. People reported headaches and body aches and low-grade fevers more commonly in vaccinated patients as compared to a placebo.

I will make sure the point is that the second injection tended to have even a higher side-effect rate than the first injection, in terms of those types of “nuisance side effects” or flu-like symptoms from the vaccine. And that's probably because the immune system was even more activated the second time than the first time.

And the other thing that was interesting is that older folks tend to have fewer side effects than younger folks. Again, probably due to the fact that the younger folks had a more vigorous immune response to the vaccine and therefore had more of these types of symptoms.

So there are side effects. Fortunately, serious side effects were very, very uncommon.
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