Tuesday marks year since Jacksonville’s 1st COVID-19 shot was administered

US now faces threat of omicron variant

Tuesday marks a year since the former CEO of UF Health Jacksonville, the late Dr. Leon Haley Jr., rolled up his sleeve and got the first COVID-19 vaccine in the city.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tuesday marks a year since the former CEO of UF Health Jacksonville, the late Dr. Leon Haley Jr., rolled up his sleeve and got the first COVID-19 vaccine in the city.

“This is a humbling moment,” Haley said Dec. 14, 2020. “This is just the beginning of a long battle.”

After Haley — who died in July 2021 in a personal watercraft accident in South Florida — got the shot of the Pfizer vaccine, staff gathered around the vaccination site in the lobby cheered. Shots were then administered to other doctors, nurses, a pharmacist and additional front-line staff working closest with COVID-19 patients.

At the time, hospitals were packed as the nation fought the original COVID-19 strain. Then came the deadlier delta variant. Now, the nation faces a new threat of the omicron variant.

Dr. Chirag Patel, with UF Health Jacksonville, says that regardless of the strain, the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19.

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An analysis Tuesday of data from South Africa, where the new variant is driving a surge in infections, suggests the Pfizer vaccine offers less defense against infection from omicron and reduced, but still good, protection from hospitalization.

“In this case, we’re really talking about Pfizer’s vaccine. There really isn’t much data from the other manufacturers, but here’s what I’ll say: Globally, the vaccine is doing its job in preventing severe infection or death for those who are vaccinated and especially those who have gotten their booster,” Pateol said.

In the new South Africa findings, people who received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine appeared to have just 33% protection against infection, compared to those who were unvaccinated, during the country’s current omicron-fueled surge, but 70% protection against hospitalization.

That’s why medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, say it’s vital to get the booster.

“The situation is there is no doubt we can say that optimal protection when you deal with an mRNA is with three doses. There is no doubt about that — both for the durability of the protection, as well as the protection against the omicron variant,” Fauci said.

And there was some good news from Pfizer on Tuesday about its COVID-19 pill, which would be prescribed by a doctor and used to treat COVID-19.

The company said full results of its 2,250-person study confirmed the pill’s promising early results against the virus: The drug reduced combined hospitalizations and deaths by about 89% among high-risk adults when taken shortly after initial COVID-19 symptoms.

Pfizer’s data could help reassure regulators of its drug’s benefit after Merck disclosed smaller-than-expected benefits for its drug in final testing. Late last month, Merck said that its pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by 30% in high-risk adults.

But Patel says the best line of defense to not being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 is not getting the coronavirus in the first place.

“So go out there and get your vaccine,” Patel said.

And that message comes as the United States is on the verge of another somber milestone: 800,000 deaths due to COVID-19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.