Naval Hospital Jacksonville, UF Health in Gainesville begin COVID-19 vaccinations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Naval Hospital Jacksonville and UF Health in Gainesville on Wednesday began giving the COVID-19 vaccine to high-risk and high-exposure health care workers.

After the shipments arrived Tuesday at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, phase one of the COVID-19 vaccination plan started Wednesday, meaning some high exposure-risk personnel got their first of two injections.

Health care workers, emergency services staff and public safety officials lined up to receive some of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The first dose was given to Lt. Cmdr. Alexandra Perry, the intensive care unit medical director at the Naval Hospital.

“It feels pretty good. It’s nice to finally get a vaccine in and be able to feel like I can go home to my family safer, take care of my patients more safely,” Perry said. “I’ve seen the pandemic right at the heart of six of the sick patients, and so it’s been a rough go, but, hopefully, this starts to turn things around for us.”

Perry was at the top of the priority list, as she works on the frontline, battling the pandemic. It’s a battle that she said has been taking a heavy toll.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “It’s devastating to families with the death rate being what it is. It’s devastating to have a family member on a ventilator for an extended period of time.”

And while safety protocols will not be relaxed at the Naval Hospital anytime soon, Capt. Michael Kaplan, an allergy and immunology specialist at the Naval Hospital, said there’s light on the horizon.

“This is a great honor that we were chosen as one of the first Department of Defense facilities to have this vaccine,” Kaplan said. “We are very optimistic that this is going to lead our hospital and our community out of this pandemic.”

The vaccine is being offered on a volunteer basis at the hospital currently, and Kaplan said they’ve been supplied enough doses to immunize the whole staff.

While Kaplan said that he couldn’t give a timeline on how long the immunization process will take, he said Wednesday’s priority was to make sure the procedures are efficient and safe.

The Navy’s senior-most official, Adm. Mike Gilday on Wednesday issued a call to his troops, saying: “I ask that every member of our Navy team strongly consider receiving the vaccine not only for yourself, but for your shipmates, your family, and your fellow citizens. By maximizing vaccination among our force and maintaining our mitigation measures of physical distancing, mask wearing and hand washing, we will begin the return to normal.”

Gilday added that he’ll be getting the vaccine as soon as senior leadership gets vaccinated. But he said that it will likely take well into next month to inoculate all of the health care professionals, emergency responders and other high-risk personnel.

At UF Health in Gainesville, vaccinations began Wednesday morning.

Samuel Overly, a trauma nurse and clinical leader in the UF Health adult emergency department, received the inaugural vaccination in his left arm at 8:06 a.m.

“It’s exciting,” Overly said. “I think it’s a step toward getting back to some kind of normal. We’ve been hearing about it for a long time, talking about having a way to get out of the masks. And I think this is a step in the right direction.”

More than 300 additional health care workers at UF Health in Gainesville were expected to be vaccinated throughout the day. They included physicians and nurses, as well as respiratory techs, lab techs, transporters, environmental services specialists and EMS personnel -- employees involved in the direct care of patients sickened by the coronavirus or who work in areas such as the emergency room where they might be exposed.

Elsewhere, at least 110 health care workers at UF Health Jacksonville have received their first shot. The hospital started its third day of shots on Wednesday, and the plan is to ramp up the number of shots every day. Baptist Health representatives said it plans to start rolling out its vaccines at the end of this week.

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