Tampa General Hospital is expecting to receive doses of the Pfizer two-dose COVID-19 vaccine sometime this week or next as part of the state’s pilot program to fight the global coronavirus. Tampa General has assembled an internal task force committee of experts to develop the process for vaccine distribution in accordance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations. The initial shipment of vaccine for this pilot program will be distributed to health care workers battling COVID-19 on the front lines. Guidance by the CDC indicates community access to the vaccine will be available around the Spring of 2021 depending on vaccine production levels.
“This vaccine provides hope to our community, and Tampa General is honored to support this pilot program,” said John Couris, president, and CEO of Tampa General Hospital. “We are ready to accept the shipment; we have the personnel, the supplies and the procedures in place to distribute the vaccine. We stand ready to support the Governor and our state officials in whatever capacity is asked of us in the distribution of the vaccine.”
In the initial phase and in accordance with federal guidelines, the COVID-19 vaccine stored at Tampa General will only be available to TGH physicians and staff at greatest risk for exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. If the vaccine supply received allows for it, once the initial group of TGH workers have begun to receive the vaccination, TGH will supply partner hospitals – AdventHealth, BayCare, Bayfront, HCA and Moffitt – with the vaccine for their first phase group of healthcare workers.
The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage (-80 degrees Celsius/-112 degrees Fahrenheit) to maintain maximum effectiveness. Tampa General’s pharmacy currently utilizes three freezers, allowing TGH to safely store a total of 510,000 doses of the vaccine at once. The freezers at TGH also produce dry ice which will be essential for transporting the vaccine safely when needed.
Once the vial is removed from the freezer, the vaccine is stable for five days in the pharmacy refrigerator. To become injectable, it is mixed with a diluent that requires the vaccine to be used within six hours. To maximize this usage, there will be no “on demand” vaccinations – the administering of the vaccines will be scheduled.
Tampa General will not act as a vaccine distribution site to the community in this initial phase as directed by the CDC. To support the needs of the local nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the state has contracted with both CVS and Walgreens to administer vaccinations to those patients as well as the health care workers who provide their direct patient care.
The second phase of vaccinations is expected to begin in early 2021 and, if supply is sufficient, will apply to:
Additional Tampa General physicians or health care workers in direct patient care
Persons over 65 with underlying health conditions
Essential workers including teachers, childcare providers, and food distribution employees
As supply increases, vaccinations will become more widely available allowing Tampa General to provide vaccinations to all TGH team members, patients, and other members of the public in accordance with CDC guidelines. Eventually, Tampa General will support 21 locations in the community to serve as general immunization sites. The timeline for this stage of availability is not known at this point but Tampa General is committed to keeping the community informed.
It is expected that the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to rise, potentially to yet unseen levels, in December and into the new year. Although the promise of the vaccine is undeniable, it will take months to vaccinate everyone in the community. Until then, it is critical that we remain vigilant and maintain the safety measures we have adopted since March 2020.
Avoid crowds and practice physical distancing
Practice good hand hygiene