TAMPA, Fla. — A spokesperson at Tampa General Hospital confirms TGH will be among the first hospitals in Florida to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once the FDA approves it.
Both Pfizer and Moderna are among the first companies to announce that their vaccines are 95% effective during the vaccine trials. Pfizer announced that they submitted for Emergency Use Authorization for their vaccine on Friday. Moderna says they will submit in the upcoming weeks.
“Pfizer’s phase three trial ended, about a year to the day for our first traceable case of COVID-19. That's amazing accomplishment. It’s really fast,” said Dr. Michael Teng, Virologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at USF.
The Pfizer vaccine requires storage at -70 degrees Celsius, or -94 degrees Farenheit. Because of this, the state of Florida identified five hospitals in the state that had the ability to store the vaccine and administer it to qualifying individuals.
Tampa General Hospital is one of those five and the only hospital in the Tampa Bay area that will store the vaccine, as of now.
“There’s a few sites around Florida that are gonna have this vaccine, and those sites are gonna be places that have, in the past, been able to do research studies, and other things where they could demonstrate that they’re able to store this type of chemical safely, they have the right distribution system,” said Dr. Jason Wilson, Associate Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Tampa General Hospital.
The Moderna vaccine on the other hand can be stored at -20 degrees Celsius, which provides greater flexibility. Moderna has not yet submitted for Emergency Use Authorization.
Based on the federal government's estimates, the United States could have around 40 million doses of the two vaccines available by the end of the year. Each vaccine requires two doses, so that would mean 20 million Americans might be able to receive the vaccine by December.
“The second dose is really essential because that’s the thing that’s going to boost your immune system and protect you from the virus,” said Dr. Teng.
Dr. Wilson says he expects the FDA Emergency Use Authorization process to be a fairly quick one, likely wrapping up in about a week, because this is something the FDA has been preparing for, for months. Then, once one of the vaccines is approved, hospitals will know exactly how many doses they will be receiving.
“We take a look at that criteria and we get some estimate about how many patients or people we would have that fit those criteria, and then a request goes to the state,” said Dr. Wilson.
Both Pfizer and Moderna have announced that they have doses ready to ship. Once one of the vaccines receives FDA approval, Governor Ron Desantis's Office says the doses will begin going out within 24 hours, expecting the five selected hospitals in Florida to receive doses within the next three to six weeks.
The Emergency Use Authorization will also detail exactly who will be eligible for those first doses.
“We do expect they would likely include some type of frontline healthcare worker, and we have started to gather some information from our frontline healthcare workers about their interest in taking the vaccine,” said Dr. Wilson.
Dr. Wilson says, based on the research he has seen so far, if he is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the beginning, he will likely move forward with vaccination.
“If they [health care workers] can have the vaccine and feel a little bit better about being protected from infection and that's going to help them do their jobs better, and that's going to make healthcare better and that will save lives in a secondary base as well,” said Dr. Teng.
The Governor's Office says the state has been preparing for vaccine distribution since July, and they've already begun purchasing necessary supplies. To date, the state has purchased five million syringes, five million needles and five million alcohol swabs.
In a pre-recorded press statement Thursday, Governor Ron DeSantis said that the State of Florida is fully prepared to distribute the vaccine as quickly and efficiently as possible. He also said the state will not be mandating the vaccine but will provide every Floridian the opportunity to get it if they want it.
This month has brought promising news regarding our efforts to combat COVID-19. The State of Florida is prepared to work with the federal government to distribute vaccines to Florida hospitals in the upcoming weeks, as well as new therapeutic treatments for those most vulnerable. pic.twitter.com/TcVBKrKlEH— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) November 19, 2020
Additionally, both CVS and Walgreens will also begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, shortly after the FDA approval, to administer to residents in long-term care facilities.
According to the Governor's Office, 2,000 long-term care facilities have registered so they can get their residents vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available.
Dr. Wilson says this COVID-19 vaccine uses technology that has yet to be used in a vaccine before, but a technology that has been studied for decades in cancer research.
“In the past what we’ve seen with vaccines is that, we would actually give a little bit of either dead vaccine or attenuated vaccine, which means the vaccine isn’t gonna hurt anybody, and we’d give the person that, and then hope that the body would mount antibody; those defenders that kind of go around and attack invaders. Now, in this new technology, which has been studied for about a decade or so in the cancer realm, what we’re actually seeing is the vaccine will give that messenger RNA, that instruction booklet, over to the cells and say ‘hey, look, here’s the assembly instructions for this protein you need to make, this antibody you need to make,’” said Dr. Wilson.
He believes that is part of the reason the vaccine is already proving to be so effective.