UF Health first in Florida to vaccinate for COVID-19
At 10:39 a.m. on Dec. 14, Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., became the first person in Florida to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Haley, a board-certified emergency room physician, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and dean of the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, was followed by other physicians, nurses, a pharmacist and other health care workers who work in areas of the hospital that most frequently care for patients with COVID-19.
UF Health Jacksonville received a shipment of 20,000 doses after being designated one of the “Pfizer Five” — a handful of sites in Florida selected to receive the initial distribution. UF Health officials began working with local, state and federal agencies to administer the vaccine for free based on the criteria the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established.
UF Health Jacksonville also is working with the Florida Department of Health to coordinate distribution to other hospitals and health care providers in Jacksonville, along with UF Health’s health campuses in Gainesville and Central Florida. Simultaneously, state officials are designating some shipments to long-term care facilities, whose residents are among those at highest risk for serious or even deadly complications of COVID-19.
Two days later, on Dec. 16, UF Health clinical caregivers in Gainesville who are most at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 began receiving vaccinations at the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital.
Samuel J. Overly, B.S.N., R.N.-B.C., a trauma nurse and clinical leader in the UF Health adult emergency department, received the inaugural vaccination as media, UF Health leaders and staff looked on. He was followed by Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H., a practicing board-certified emergency medicine physician who regularly sees patients and is also the associate vice president for strategic and academic affairs for UF Health.
Tyndall reflected on the importance of the moment.
“I have personally known many who have died, and more who are recovering from COVID-19,” said Tyndall, who is also a professor and chief of the UF College of Medicine’s department of emergency medicine. “By taking this vaccine, all of us — literally all of us — will have an opportunity to alleviate suffering and save lives.”
“We are optimistic about the future even as we’re mindful of the tragic toll the coronavirus has taken on so many in the communities we serve,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “We think of them as we work toward ending this pandemic. These first vaccinations will ensure our front-line employees are able to do their part to care for us all. One day, we’ll look back on this moment as the beginning of the end of the pandemic.”
The arrival of the vaccine was a welcome moment for those at UF Health who have spent months fighting the pandemic on multiple all fronts.
“You can arguably say this is the most exciting day of my career to see this moving forward,” said Michael Lauzardo, M.D., M.Sc., deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and a public health specialist who directs the UF Health Screen, Test & Protect initiative.
“We get to play offense now,” he added. “We have been playing defense for the last nine months. The challenges are huge, but this is exactly what we all needed.”
The following day, UF Health Central Florida began vaccinating its Leesburg- and The Villages®-based front-line health care workers most at risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 on the campus of UF Health Leesburg Hospital.
Elias N. Maroun, M.D., a practicing board-certified infectious disease physician who regularly sees patients and is also the medical director of infectious disease at UF Health Central Florida, received the inaugural vaccination.
“I am humbled to be able to receive this important vaccine as it represents the first step toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic, a virus that has taken from so many in our country and around the world,’’ Maroun said. “Today, science won,” said Dr. Elias Maroun after receiving his vaccine at UF Health Leesburg Hospital.
In the months to come, vaccines will begin to become available to the wider community, starting with those who have medical conditions, such as diabetes, that make them especially vulnerable to the virus.
“The ability to have an FDA-approved vaccine to begin vaccinating Tier 1 staff at UF Health Central Florida is an extremely exciting development, at a time when we are seeing cases rise,” said Don Henderson, CEO of UF Health Central Florida. “We are grateful for the ongoing support from the teams at UF Health Jacksonville and UF Health Shands in Gainesville, without whom this rapid vaccine deployment would not be possible.”
The vaccine does not introduce the coronavirus itself, so those who are vaccinated cannot be infected with COVID-19 through its administration.
Lauzardo noted people need to trust all the work done by scientists and all the data showing the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.
“There is an infodemic out there as well as a pandemic,” he said. “People need to listen to the experts, trust the experts and trust the science.”