DeSantis calls COVID-19 vaccine arrival in Florida ‘historic moment’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was at the loading dock at Tampa General at 10 a.m. Monday as the COVD-19 vaccine arrived and “had the privilege” to sign the Federal Express delivery receipt.

Tampa General, UF Health Jacksonville and three other large hospitals will split about 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine between Monday and Tuesday. They will administer it to their staff members, distribute the vaccine to other nearby hospitals and front-line health care workers. Another 60,000 will go to CVS and Walgreens to be administered to long-term care facility residents and staff.

DeSantis said the state will also receive 20,000 to the state to supplement the private vendors giving vaccines at LTC facilities.

“We think we’re getting this at a good time,” DeSantis said during a news conference. “So far things have gone well.”

The governor said more than 40 states had higher per capita rates of new infections and hospitalizations than Florida and the vaccine should help keep the cases from getting beyond the state hospitals’ ability to handle COVID-19 patients.

University of South Florida Medical Center Dean Charles Lockwood called the arrival of the first vaccine “a magic moment,” and compared it to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

Eleven months after the earliest recorded case of coronavirus in the United States, the first 10,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived Monday morning at UF Health Jacksonville and the first 10 shots were quickly administered to emergency room and intensive care workers, including the medical center’s CEO.

“We’re in the fourth quarter. We’re in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter,” Lockwood said, but quickly added. “Please keep wearing masks, socially distancing, avoiding large gatherings. It will make a huge difference and we’ll have a return to normality very quickly.”

DeSantis was anticipating the FDA approval of the Moderna vaccine at the end of this week and perhaps another vaccine approval by early next year. He hoped Florida could see 1 million Floridians vaccinated in the near future.

“My guess is that most people that are in the viewing area are going to have access to the vaccine at some point in the first six months of next year,” Justin Senior, CEO of Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which includes UF Health and Ascension St. Vincent’s, told News4Jax.

Senior, the former secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, described Monday as a “huge day.”

“I think it’s got the potential to be an enormous turning point in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.

During the news conference, DeSantis directed attention to the administering of Tampa General’s first vaccine to an emergency room nurse, calling her Florida’s “patient zero,” even though 10 employees at UF Health in Jacksonville received the vaccine about 45 minutes earlier.

DeSantis then left the room without taking questions about why the state was not making White House Coronavirus Task Force reports for Florida public.

The Dec. 6 task force report, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, listed much of Florida in the red zone for COVID-19 and recommended stricter measures for stopping the virus, including mask-wearing at all times in public, increased physical distancing by reducing capacity or closing indoor spaces at restaurants and bars and limiting gatherings outside of immediate households.

The task force also urged leaders to begin warning about the risks of gathering during the December holiday season.

Two newspapers last week sued the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis for failing to make public the weekly reports.

About the Authors:

Created in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.