Tampa General Hospital, along with four other hospital systems across the state, received the first doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine Monday morning, a moment healthcare leaders and elected officials lauded as historic, miraculous and a triumph of science and teamwork.
“This is a game changer,” said Governor Ron DeSantis at a press conference at TGH Monday where Vanessa Arroyo, a nurse who treats Covid patients at the Taneja Family Global Emerging Diseases Institute, received one of the state’s first doses of the vaccine. “It’s a great day for the U.S. and a great day for the state of Florida.”
DeSantis signed for the hospital’s FedEx delivery of nearly 20,000 doses on the hospital’s loading dock around 10 a.m. Monday. Those doses will go to TGH physicians and staff at greatest risk for exposure to Covid in the workplace. If the vaccine supply received allows for it, TGH will supply partner hospitals – AdventHealth, BayCare, Bayfront, HCA and Moffitt – with the vaccine for their first phase group of healthcare workers.
That the vaccine was developed so quickly in the face of widespread skepticism made Monday an especially “historic day,” according to DeSantis. Last week, when he was at the White House’s Operation Warp Speed summit, he watched a montage of people on cable news saying there was “no way” there would be a vaccine by year end and that it would take at least two or three years.
“That probably was the smart money but here we are much less than a year later,” DeSantis said. “This is a really significant milestone in terms of combating the coronavirus pandemic.”
By Tuesday morning, DeSantis expects almost 100,000 doses will have been delivered to the five hospitals selected to distribute the vaccine, which include AdventHealth Orlando, UF Health Jacksonville, Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood and Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Additionally, about 60,000 doses will be sent to CVS and Walgreens for distribution to long-term care facility residents and employees, and 20,000 will go to the Florida Department of Health. Several hundred thousand more doses of the Pfizer vaccine were slated to be delivered to the state in the next two weeks, though DeSantis said that might be dialed back due to possible production issues.
Based on conversations with federal health officials, DeSantis anticipates that the Moderna vaccine will get F.D.A. approval by the end of the week and said that Florida could receive 300,000 to 400,000 doses by the beginning of next week. After frontline healthcare workers and long-term care communities get their vaccines, the plan is to offer them to elderly residents as well as those who may have significant comorbidities, making them high risk for complications from the virus.
Looking further down the road, DeSantis said that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – which only requires one dose – could potentially get F.D.A. approval in January and by February, could potentially be available for everyone regardless of risk factor.
For now, though, healthcare leaders are reflecting on the significance of Monday’s events.
“This is 20,000 doses of hope,” said TGH president and CEO John Couris of the vaccine. “We will not let down this community and we’re honored to be one of the hospitals leading this effort.”
Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, called the rapid development and approval of the vaccine the healthcare equivalent to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.
“This is a magic moment,” Lockwood said. “Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic.”
However, he cautioned people to continue to follow Covid safety protocol as the vaccine is distributed.
“We’re in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter and we have Tom Brady as our quarterback,” he said. “Please keep wearing masks, social distancing and avoid large gatherings. We’re almost there.”