Contact: Frank Faust
LEESBURG, Fla. — In a historic moment for the Lake and Sumter County area, University of Florida Health Central Florida began vaccinating its Leesburg- and The Villages®-based front-line health care workers Thursday with the Pfizer/BioTech COVID-19 vaccine, which recently gained Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
The effort was a necessary first step toward turning the corner on the pandemic, which has disrupted nearly every aspect of society.
UF Health Central Florida care providers and staff most at risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 began receiving vaccinations on the campus of UF Health Leesburg Hospital, just three days after the first vaccinations in the state were administered at UF Health Jacksonville and a day after vaccinations began at UF Health in Gainesville.
Elias N. Maroun, M.D., a practicing board-certified infectious disease physician who regularly sees patients and is also the medical director of infectious disease at UF Health Central Florida, received the inaugural vaccination at 2:05 p.m. as local media, UF Health Central Florida leaders and staff looked on. The shot was administered by Erika Jasper, Pharm.D., a staff pharmacist at UF Health Leesburg Hospital.
“I am humbled to be able to receive this important vaccine as it represents the first step toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic, a virus that has taken from so many in our country and around the world, said Dr. Maroun. “Today, science won.”
He was followed by Janet Bennett, R.N., a nurse in the observation unit at UF Health The Villages® Hospital, as well as Rolando Santana Banos, R.N., a nurse from the cardiac medical unit at UF Health Leesburg Hospital.
Those initial doses will be followed by hundreds more for health care workers in the initial priority group, from Friday, Dec. 18 through Sunday, Dec. 20, with the goal of administering a total of 500 vaccinations. They include nurses and physicians as well as environmental services specialists, respiratory therapists and laboratory technologists — employees involved in the direct care of patients sickened by the coronavirus or who work in areas such as the emergency room where they face the greatest risk of exposure.
Anyone receiving the Pfizer vaccine will have to get two doses, an initial shot and then a second 21 days later.
In the months to come, vaccines will begin to become available to the wider community, starting with those who have medical conditions, such as diabetes, that make them especially vulnerable to severe disease, and eventually to the healthiest among us.
“The ability to have an FDA-approved vaccine to begin vaccinating Tier 1 staff at UF Health Central Florida is an extremely exciting development, at a time when we are seeing cases rise,” said Don Henderson, CEO of UF Health Central Florida. “We are grateful for the ongoing support from the teams at UF Health Jacksonville and UF Health Shands in Gainesville, without whom this rapid vaccine deployment would not be possible.”
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at exceptionally cold temperatures — about minus-94 degrees to minus-112 degrees Fahrenheit. The vaccine was transported to the UF Health Leesburg Hospital campus in a thermal shipping container packed with dry ice, with a special temperature monitor that attached to the box. The box was quickly transferred to an ultra-cold freezer.
UF Health Central Florida received 500 initial doses to distribute. A tiered system for vaccination is being used, starting with employees who have the greatest exposure to COVID-19 in their day-to-day job duties, then gradually working down to those who have lesser levels of exposure. As additional doses become available, they will be offered to other groups within UF Health Central Florida.
In addition to the Pfizer vaccine, which received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last Friday, a similar vaccine by the drug maker Moderna is expected to become available, perhaps as soon as next week.
While exceptionally safe, relatively minor vaccine side effects are possible, from soreness in the arm at the injection site to minor fever, chills and headaches, which are associated with the body mounting an immune response. In most cases, symptoms are expected to dissipate within 24 hours.
When asked how he felt within an hour of being vaccinated, Dr. Maroun had this to say, “I feel great!”