On ‘historic day,’ FL’s COVID vaccination program begins with inoculation of a Tampa nurse

As Gov. Ron DeSantis looks on, Tampa General Hospital nurse Vanessa Arroyo receives the first COVID-19 vaccine shot administered in Florida on Dec. 14, 2020. Source: Screenshot

A 31-year-old nurse at Tampa General Hospital was the first person in Florida to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday morning as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that by tomorrow the state will have received nearly 100,000 doses.

“Today was really a historic day,” the governor said. “It’s a great day for the United States, it’s a great day for Florida.”

Vanessa Arroyo, who works in the hospital’s COVID unit, received her vaccine live during a press conference at the hospital with DeSantis, Tampa General Hospital CEO John Couris, and Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.

“Thanks for being willing to step up and be the first patient,” DeSantis told Arroyo. “This is exciting.”

DeSantis said he was honored to join Couris, hospital doctors and others at “the loading dock when the first vaccines were received in the state of Florida.”

“And look, talk is cheap, yeah, we saw FedEx deliver it, we’re saying how great it is. But let’s actually get some shots in arms,” DeSantis said.

The vaccine, developed by Pfizer Inc. and German partner Pfizer-BioNTech, was administered by nurse Rafael Martinez. Two doses are required to obtain immunity, although some reports suggests good results with a single doze.

As of the last update from the Florida Department of Health, Florida has seen 1,125,931 coronavirus infections plus 58,127 hospitalizations and 19,866 deaths of Florida residents.

DeSantis said vaccines will be given to health care workers first and then distributed at long-term health care facilities.

DeSantis had said earlier that Florida is in line to receive nearly 180,000 doses initially. On Monday, he said that doses have also been shipped to Broward Memorial and U.F. Health Jacksonville. In all, five hospital systems are slated to receive initial doses.

“When the vaccine plans were being rolled out by Operation Warp Speed, we were told we could select five systems in the state of Florida for kind of the first round. And I think the reason they did that was they didn’t want to have massive numbers of hospitals, if there were problems — the problems would be exacerbated. This is kind of a beta test,” he said.

Operation Warp Speed is the federal government’s crash vaccine-development campaign.

DeSantis did not take questions from reporters — he exited the room while news cameras took photos of the nurse receiving her vaccination.

Moskowitz urged Floridians to continue to follow safety protocols, saying “while this is not the end, we have a long way to go,” he said. “Folks, continue to do mitigation efforts.”

The state has earmarked 60,450 vaccine doses to CVS and Walgreens for distribution to nursing homes and 21,450 doses for teams representing the Florida Department of Health, the Division of Emergency Management, and the Florida National Guard for the same population.

Another 97,500 doses will go to hospitals for health care staff working closely with COVID patients, DeSantis said last week.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study identified 1,062,700 Floridians who’d be eligible for the vaccine initially, including 991,500 health care workers and 71,200 nursing home patients out of an adult population of 1.68 million.

Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.