TAMPA, Fla. — One year ago Tuesday, a nurse at Tampa General Hospital was one of the first people in the state to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Since then, millions of doses have been given out. Public health experts are now reflecting on the vaccine rollout and the state of the pandemic a year later.
“A year ago, we were presented with a remarkable scientific accomplishment, right? I mean something unimaginable,” said Dr. Charles Lockwood, the Dean of the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida. “I think I said at the time that it rivaled the Apollo missions to the moon, and I really do think that’s true, and it has proven to be much safer than we had thought.”
Health experts likened the day of the COVID vaccine rollout to a magic moment and explained it brought a sense of relief and hope that it was the beginning of the end of the pandemic. One year after vaccines started going into the arms of health care workers in the state and Tampa Bay area, ABC Action News checked in to see how some health experts feel about where we are in the pandemic today.
“I’m disappointed that there’s been the degree of vaccine hesitancy that there has been, and I’m discouraged by the fact that we were not able to provide the vaccine on a more global reach, which has led to the development of these variants,” said Lockwood. “On the other hand, I think we’re through the tough part. I think the vaccine will make a huge difference ultimately.”
Dr. Lockwood was at a press conference alongside Governor Ron DeSantis and other health care workers in December 2020 when one of the first doses in the state was administered, and he explains yes, there’s still hope to be had at this point in the pandemic.
“The natural history of these viruses is to develop into the cold, the common cold. So when we get to that point, then we’re really home free, and we will get to that point, but we can ensure that the impact of this pandemic is less by getting everybody to be vaccinated,” said Lockwood.
Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a Distinguished USF Health Professor, says to concentrate on the positives of where we are then to now.
“A year ago, we were really concerned about ending up in the hospital, intubated and on a ventilator, and perhaps dying from this infection, and that’s not really as nearly a big a concern as it was back a year ago,” said Unnasch.
On how much further we have to go, Dr. Unnasch thinks we're going to go into an endemic situation and that the virus is never going to disappear completely. Instead, he hopes it’ll reach a point where it becomes part of the background noise of our lives.
“There is a lot that we’ve done. There are a lot more arrows in the quiver,” said Unnasch. “We know how to deal with this a lot better, and we have good tools now to really beat this back, and I think we will, and I think there’s a lot of reasons for hope.”