More workers at UF Health Jacksonville get vaccinated for COVID-19

‘So much better than we were yesterday’ as vaccine rollout helps Florida fight virus

VIDEO: For the second day in a row, health care workers at UF Health rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With the arrival of 10,000 more doses of COVID-19 vaccine at UF Health Jacksonville on Tuesday, 100 front-line health care workers got their first shots.

Hospital officials said staff members with the highest risk were next for the vaccinations. From there, more staff members will be dosed until all front-line staff is vaccinated.

The vaccinations started again at 7 a.m. Tuesday and continued into the afternoon. They will then resume Wednesday.

“I think things are going extremely well this morning,” UF Health Division Director Jeanne Bradshaw said Tuesday. “Things are going as planned. We’ve not had any kind of reactions from the vaccinations. Everyone has been real excited to get it.”

Each person who got the shot had to be monitored for about 15 minutes to make sure they didn’t have any reaction. They were given a pager, similar to what one might see in a restaurant. When it went off, they were quickly checked out. From there, they were cleared to leave the room.

Flight nurse Tony Hayes was excited to roll up his sleeve.

“It’s an honor that UF Health was one of the five hospitals in Florida to do this. We’ve been preparing for this for quite some time. I think it’s important though. I feel safe getting this,” Hayes said. “I trust the people here at UF Health Jacksonville, especially the physicians. They’re some of the smartest people I know. I really think they have our best interests at heart.”

Dr. Leigh Neumayer, a physician with the UF Health Department of Surgery, also rolled up her sleeve. She sees people with COVID-19 a lot. In fact, she has had to cancel surgeries after patients ended up testing positive right before they were slated to go under the knife. She said it has been an emotional journey and she has seen the tragic side of COVID-19.

“To help these folks who are unfortunately dying in solitude. Luckily, we’ve been getting better at the treatment because we’ve been practicing it a lot. But this is still a very deadly disease. People should continue to take precautions,” Neumayer said. “It’s very disheartening to those of us who are exposing ourselves, but more importantly taking care of these patients, to have other people say it’s a hoax or it’s not real. I’d like for them to come spend a day with me. I can show them the X-rays.”

Neumayer said people should still continue to wear masks everywhere they go.

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Health care workers called the arrival of the vaccine a historic event, not just in their personal story, but in the fight to defeat the coronavirus and restore normalcy to the world.

“We’re going to be hopefully as a state and as a country in such a better position in fighting this pandemic, so much better than we were even yesterday,” Justin Senior, CEO of Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which includes UF Health and Ascension St. Vincent’s, and former secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, said Monday.

Baptist Health System expects to begin vaccinating its employees next week.

Administering the vaccine will continue to be staggered, according to federal officials. Once health care and front-line workers are done, residents of long-term care facilities are next and then people aged 65 and older.

“Between the long-term care residence and the 65 and older, they account for well over 80% and approaching 90% of the fatalities in the state of Florida,” Senior said. “And Florida is not alone in that.”

It’s not been announced yet which demographics will qualify for the next rounds. Dr. Kevin Duane, owner of Panama Pharmacy, said he believes the state of Florida is following a good vaccine distribution plan.

“They’ve got to protect the most vulnerable first, and that is not the general public. The most vulnerable are people that most of us don’t see. They are the front-line health care workers in the emergency departments and the ICUs around the state,” Duane said.

For naysayers doubting the vaccine’s effectiveness, Duane said that those beliefs come from bad information.

“The vaccine itself is new, but the technology behind it is not. We’ve been using the technology behind it for quite some time in other trials and another disease that states -- like Zika virus, for example,” he said.

Because the Pfizer shot requires two rounds, the people getting the vaccines now will get a second shot in about three weeks.

“I think the hardest thing is to see all the suffering and the work that all of our folks are doing,” UF Health Director of Pharmacy Berni Belgado said Tuesday. “When we see something like this happen, the future looks brighter.”

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.