Here’s what happens now that the coronavirus vaccine is in Tampa Bay

Expect an immediate push to vaccinate health care workers and people who live and work in nursing homes.
Boxes containing the COVID-19 vaccine are seen in a freezer at Tampa General Hospital Monday in Tampa. Tampa General Hospital was one of the first hospitals to receive the vaccine.
Boxes containing the COVID-19 vaccine are seen in a freezer at Tampa General Hospital Monday in Tampa. Tampa General Hospital was one of the first hospitals to receive the vaccine. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Dec. 12, 2020|Updated Dec. 14, 2020

LIVE: Latest updates as coronavirus vaccine arrives in Tampa Bay and Florida

Federal approval of the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine late Friday set in motion an effort to get the drug into as many arms as possible — as soon as possible.

State and local officials have yet to release a final plan for distributing vaccines, but here is what’s known based on information presented in recent days by public officials and health care leaders:

Tampa General Hospital is a hub of activity

Tampa General and four other Florida hospitals will share about 97,500 initial doses of the vaccine, developed by the U.S. drug maker Pfizer Inc. in partnership with the German biotechnology company BioNTech.

The shipments starting arriving Monday and initially will be administered to frontline health care workers treating COVID-19 patients.

After that, Tampa General will share its supply with the area’s other large hospitals and hospital systems: AdventHealth, BayCare Health System, Bayfront Health, HCA Healthcare and Moffitt Cancer Center. These providers, like Tampa General, will administer the vaccine to health care workers most at risk of contracting COVID-19.

The vaccine will be stored in Tampa General’s pharmacy, which has three freezers capable of holding 510,000 doses at once and can produce dry ice for safely transporting the drug. The Pfizer product requires ultra-cold storage at minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a news release Friday, the hospital offered this description of how the vaccine will be handled: “Once the vial is removed from the freezer, the vaccine is stable for five days in the pharmacy refrigerator. To become injectable, it is mixed with a diluent that requires the vaccine to be used within six hours. To maximize this usage, there will be no ‘on demand’ vaccinations — the administering of the vaccines will be scheduled.”

All told, Florida initially will receive about 180,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine, Gov. Ron DeSantis said. When enough additional doses arrive, a second phase of the distribution plan kicks in. At that point, recipients will include additional Tampa General staff, people over 65 with underlying health conditions, first responders, law enforcement officers and essential workers like teachers, childcare providers and food distribution employees.

Officials expect broader distribution to the general population to begin in the spring. Tampa General said it eventually will support immunization sites at 21 locations in the area.

Nursing home ‘strike teams’ are poised in Pinellas

In addition to health care workers, residents and staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities will be a major focus of the first phase of distribution.

Of the 60,000 initial doses earmarked for these facilities across Florida, about 10,700 will be used in Pinellas, to be administered by health department “strike teams.” A similar amount will go to Broward County facilities, part of a state pilot program.

Pinellas has been a Florida hot spot, with 774 coronavirus-related deaths to date in the county’s long-term care facilities.

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Testing sites could double as vaccine centers

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said last week that large public testing sites like Raymond James Stadium will be converted into vaccine distribution centers.

These “point of distribution” sites are part of the city’s Homeland Security planning, she said. “We’ll be able to get the vaccines out in an orderly fashion.”

But getting to that point will take some time.

“Although the promise of the vaccine is undeniable, it will take months to vaccinate everyone in the community,” Tampa General Hospital said in its statement. “Until then, it is critical that we remain vigilant and maintain the safety measures we have adopted since March 2020.”

That means mask-wearing, social distancing and good hand-washing hygiene.

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