Vaccine timeline: Florida prepares for COVID-19 shots

Gov. Ron DeSantis says first shots go to health care workers

TAMPA, Fla. – Florida is ready to make use of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses as soon as federal officials give the green light, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday.

The vaccine produced by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech won a critical endorsement Thursday from a Food and Drug Administration panel of outside advisers, and signoff from the agency — which is expected within days — is the next step needed to get the shots to the public. The FDA said earlier Friday that it “will rapidly work” to grant emergency use of the vaccine.

Besides the hospital distribution of 97,500 doses for health care workers, DeSantis said CVS and Walgreens have a contract with the federal government’s Health and Human Services to get more 60,000 people vaccinated in long-term care facilities.

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The governor said the state’s health department will also deploy “strike teams” to other nursing homes, mentioning Pinellas County, home to St. Petersburg, and Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, to add to the private pharmacies’ effort with about 25,000 doses.

“To be able to have vaccines available for the most vulnerable residents that will be something that will be a game changer,” DeSantis said. “We should be optimistic about what could be coming down the pike here.”

DeSantis expressed hope that emergency use authorization would come Friday.

“That will then unlock the ability to start receiving shipments of the vaccine,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Tampa.

In Florida, five hospitals systems will get the first shipments of the vaccine, including UF Health Shands in Gainesville and Jacksonville, Tampa General, AdventHealth and two hospitals in South Florida. The governor said he hopes that those hospital systems will begin working with other hospitals to distribute among their health care workers, as well.

“We want to say not limited to those five hospital system workers,” DeSantis said Friday. “We want to get as many of those frontline workers, ED doctors, nurses, ICU nurses, all of those folks the opportunity to do it.”

On Thursday, AdventHealth officials said they’re ready to administer the vaccines as early as Monday or Tuesday.

“We’re not going to store the vaccines for very long,” Dr. Steven Smith said. “We’re going to get them in, get them out and then another shipment will follow that.”

On Friday, Orlando Health also sent out a release saying they plan to administer vaccines as early as next Friday, Dec. 18, and continue through the week before Christmas.

“We are pleased to provide this initial round of vaccinations to individuals who face the highest risk of exposure to the virus,” said George Ralls, MD, chief medical officer at Orlando Health. “In addition to the Pfizer product, we expect the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to be approved within weeks, which – based on supply – should allow us to expand the vaccination program, eventually making the vaccine available to our entire workforce.”