TAMPA, Fla. — William Moccio is a Vietnam War Army veteran, and now, the first patient at James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday.
“It was no big deal, I didn’t feel it at all,” the 70-year old said.
Moccio is a resident of the hospital’s Cove Community Living Center and president of the homeowner’s association.
“In here we’ve been quarantined. So it’s not the most pleasant thing. I can’t see my friends. I have a lot of friends across the street in the hospital,” he said.
He describes it as a shot but knows it also offers a sign of hope.
“Everybody should get it, that’s my opinion,” he said.
The hospital is receiving more than 2,900 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and 4,500 of Moderna’s vaccine.
“We have spent quite a bit of time preparing to receive this vaccine and we are all so very excited to have received it today. We have been developing our vaccine teams and setting aside space and staffing, developing the storage requirements on-site and we are ready to go,” said Dr. Sandra Gompf, the section chief of infectious diseases at the hospital.
Gompf said the priority is frontline healthcare providers and their highest risk veterans in the spinal cord injury unit and community living centers.
“Those are the groups that are primarily being vaccinated but the goal is to vaccinate very soon everyone who wants to be vaccinated, veterans in the outpatient setting as well as any employee who wants to be vaccinated,” she said.
More than 170 hospitals across the state were slated to receive doses of Moderna’s vaccine this week to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital said it received nearly 10,000 doses Tuesday and started vaccinating frontline workers.
Baycare Health System is also having clinics for its team members in Tampa, Winter Haven and Clearwater this week.
Emergency medical workers and firefighters in Pinellas County also started receiving vaccines.
“It’s a good way for us to protect those we come in contact with. In addition to ourselves on the 911 calls when we are kinda going into that unknown,” said John Klinefelter, the division chief of health and safety for Clearwater Fire and Rescue.
He said he didn’t have any side effects other than a bit of tenderness in his arm after his injection.
“I’m hoping that we continue to slow the spread of this virus and I’m hoping 2021 we’re all getting back to what we consider a normal way of living,” he said.
As more doses arrive, Governor Ron Desantis said the focus will next be on the elderly population.
“As we get into the general community the vaccines are going to be targeted where the risk is the greatest that is in our elderly population. We are not going to put young, healthy workers ahead of our elderly, vulnerable population,” he said.
Still, for healthcare workers on the frontlines, the vaccine brings excitement.
“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and that’s what I would like everyone to recognize. That this really is the beginning of the end to this pandemic. We still need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We still need to be wearing masks when we go out. We need to wear we need to continue with social distancing and avoiding groups and not eating with people that we don’t live with and all of those things,” said Dr. Gompf.