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'Magical' Moment As COVID-19 Vaccine Arrives In Florida

Chris O'Meara
Associated Press
Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, watches as Ramon Docobo, Asst. Director of the Pharmacy at Tampa General Hospital, removes the COVID-19 vaccine from boxes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Tampa.

The first wave of coronavirus vaccinations began in Florida on Monday, with health-care workers in Tampa and Jacksonville among the first to get inoculated.

Vanessa Arroyo receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot.
Credit News Service of Florida
Vanessa Arroyo receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was on hand at Tampa General Hospital as the first shot there was administered to Vanessa Arroyo, a 31-year-old registered nurse. COVID-19 vaccinations also were administered to workers at UF Health Jacksonville, and Memorial Healthcare System in Broward County said an initial shipment would be used to inoculate front-line workers.

Related: Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine Arrives At UF Health Jacksonville; 1st Shots Administered

“Today, we will have shots going into arms,” said DeSantis, who signed the FedEx delivery that brought about 20,000 doses to Tampa General Hospital. “This is a game-changer. It’s a great day for the United States, it’s a great day for the state of Florida.”

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

The so-called “Pfizer 5” will have around 100,000 vaccinations for front-line workers at hospitals. Overall, Florida will receive about 180,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with tens of thousands of doses being shipped to CVS and Walgreens pharmacies that have signed an agreement with the federal government to vaccinate residents and workers at long-term care facilities. The Florida Department of Health has 20,000 doses to supplement the CVS and Walgreens efforts.

While state officials and health care leaders were enthusiastic about the Pfizer Inc. vaccine finally arriving, they also cautioned it could be at least two months before COVID-19 vaccinations begin in the general population. Florida has had more than 1.1 million coronavirus cases since the virus took hold, and nearly 20,000 residents have died.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

DeSantis has focused heavily on vaccines providing an answer as he has come under fire for lifting many COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and refusing to impose a statewide mask mandate.

“We are getting this (the vaccine) at a good time,” DeSantis said Monday. “We think that if we get it to the right folks who are more likely to be hospitalized, we can continue to keep those numbers in line.”

John Couris,  president of Tampa General Hospital, called the arrival of the vaccine, which received emergency use authorization in the United States on Friday, monumental.

“We are ready, and it is absolutely game time. We will not let down this community. We will not let down our team. We are honored to be one of the hospitals leading this effort,” Couris said.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Washington, the Trump administration said it expected emergency use authorization of a second vaccine from Moderna by the end of the week. It would  follow a similar distribution pattern, stretching deliveries to 3,285 locations nationwide.

DeSantis said that he expects Florida to receive about 365,000 Moderna doses after the vaccine candidate receives emergency authorization, which is expected Friday.

Charles Lockwood, dean of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, stressed at the Tampa news conference that people should continue to socially distance, wear masks and avoid large gatherings as the virus continues to spread across the nation.

Lockwood called the approval of the vaccine magical, likening it to the moon landing.

“From a health care perspective, this is our magical Neal Armstrong moment,” Lockwood said.