TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa General Hospital is preparing for doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to arrive. The hospital says it expects to receive doses sometime this week or next as part of the state’s pilot program to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Jason Wilson, Associate Director of Tampa General Hospital’s Emergency Department, calls the progress of a COVID-19 vaccine a “moon landing-level scientific breakthrough.”
“My guess is that at this time next week when I open up those freezers, there’s going be a vaccine in those freezers, and by this time next week, we’re going to be putting shots in arms, injections in arms of healthcare workers,” said Wilson. “I hope to be vaccinated by this time next week. That’s my goal.”
Dr. Wilson explained they don’t know yet how many doses they will be able to receive. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures.
Tampa General says its pharmacy uses three freezers, which will allow them to safely store a total of 510,000 doses of the vaccine at once. The freezers can also make dry ice, which TGH says will be helpful for transporting the vaccine when needed.
TGH explained once a vial is taken out of the freezer, the vaccine is stable for five days in the pharmacy's refrigerator. To inject it, it’s mixed with a diluent that requires the vaccine to be used within six hours. TGH says there won’t be on-demand vaccinations, but instead, they will be scheduled.
In this initial phase of distribution, the vaccine stored at Tampa General will only be available to TGH physicians and staff at greatest risk for exposure at work.
“We’ve reached out to the team leaders in those areas to talk with their staff about who would like to get the vaccine as quickly as possible, and those names are being collected,” said Wilson. “What you’ll start to see next week is some way for those people to be scheduled and come in and get vaccinated.”
Tampa General says if supply allows and once the initial group of TGH workers has started to get the vaccine, they’ll then supply doses to their partner hospitals: AdventHealth, BayCare, Bayfront, HCA, and Moffit. Tampa General won’t act as a vaccine distribution site to the community for this initial phase.
USF Health professor Dr. Michael Teng explained that the data shows Pfizer’s vaccine is highly effective. While the vaccine is promising, Teng shared it doesn’t mean the country is out of the woods yet.
“It’s exciting that we have this vaccine, that it's safe and effective, and when it's available to you, that it’s a really good thing to protect yourself and your community against this pretty terrible pandemic that we’re going through right now,” said Teng. “There is light at the end of the tunnel, but that tunnel is still six to nine months long.”
CDC advisors identified healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents as a top priority group for first doses when a vaccine is available. Doctors ask people to continue wearing a mask and social distancing as the country navigates the vaccination process.
“You still have to be doing the physical distancing, mask-wearing or hand sanitation that we’ve been doing for the last nine months,” said Dr. Teng. “It’s just that simple.”