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Pfizer Vaccine Arrives In Central Florida - Hospital Workers To Get Vaccinated First

Josh Smith of AdventHealth Translational Research Institute holds up three vials of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. On Tuesday, 20,000 doses arrived in Central Florida. (video courtesy AdventHealth)
Josh Smith of AdventHealth Translational Research Institute holds up three vials of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. On Tuesday, 20,000 doses arrived in Central Florida. (video courtesy AdventHealth)

A FedEx van carrying 20,000 doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine arrived Tuesday at AdventHealth's Translational Research Institute, the crucial first step for Central Florida's frontline health workers to get vaccinated this week.

The coolers packed with dry ice were brought inside, and the tiny vials were placed in a special freezer that can keep them at minus 70 degrees Celsius. Starting Wednesday, the vaccine will be offered to frontline health care workers in high risk areas, including the COVID intensive care units, the emergency department and those doing surgical procedures.

AdventHealth’s Chief Nursing Officer Linnette Johnson said the vaccine is not just being offered to doctors and nurses.

“We’ve actually included those staff members if they work in those high-risk areas, so we do have environmental services that round in the emergency room, that certainly take care of the emergency room needs, our COVID units, our ICUs, our respiratory therapists, absolutely,” Johnson said.

AdventHealth expects about 9,400 employees will get the vaccine. The remainder will be given to employees at other healthcare facilities in the tri-county area, including those at Orlando Health, Nemours and HCA hospitals.

The vaccine is offered at no cost to those getting it.

AdventHealth Chief Medical Officer Dr. Neil Finkler said that the vaccine will be recommended, but not required, while it is being offered under an FDA emergency use authorization.

“Once this moves to an FDA approved vaccine, which we anticipate some time in 2021, then we will require this, very similar to what we do with our flu vaccine policy,” Finkler said.

The Pfizer vaccine does not use live vaccine; rather, it uses messenger RNA to create a protein spike that your body's immune system can recognize and fight.

It must be given in two doses. Finkler said Pfizer and the state of Florida are keeping the second doses - meaning 20,000 workers will get the vaccine in the first wave.

"So for every dose Pfizer sends out, they are keeping a dose behind," Finkler said. "So the government and Pfizer are essentially guaranteeing that second dose."

The priority groups for the first round of the vaccine are health care workers and elderly people living in group settings, live assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Orange County Health Department Director Dr. Raul Pino this week called the mass vaccination effort in those facilities a "logistics nightmare."

AdventHealth was one of five sites chosen across Florida to get early access to the vaccine for doctors, nurses and other workers. The vaccine is being offered at no cost.

Orlando Health said it will begin offering the vaccine to employees starting Friday. Employees at South Lake Hospital will be offered the vaccine next week.

“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,” said Dr. George Ralls, Orlando Health's chief medical officer, in a statement.

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Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Central Florida, with enough doses for 20,000 people to get vaccinated.[/caption]