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The first COVID-19 vaccine is approved, but that doesn't guarantee you'll be able to get it

As local Departments of Health and hospitals nail down plans, it is clear that it might take a while for the everyday person to gain access to the vaccine.

TAMPA, Fla — In an effort to put an end to the pandemic, Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine has been granted emergency authorization use by the FDA. 

In Florida, the first doses of the vaccine will go to frontline doctors and residents and staff in long term care facilities.

But local branches of the Florida Department of Health are already thinking about plans for mass vaccination.

“Plans are in the in the works, and certainly being refined every day to make sure that goes smoothly," explained Maggie Hall of the Florida Department of Health, Pinellas County.

Hall says they prepare for mass vaccinations every year. This year they vaccinated the public for free against the flu, and in years past, they have offered free vaccination against Hepatitis A. 

“And the aim of those is not just to provide vaccine, the flu vaccine at no cost, but also to serve as an exercise for times like this when you do have to vaccinate a large number of people quickly and efficiently and safely," Hall said.

However, the Pfizer vaccine is very different from the flu and Hepatitis A vaccines. Even so, Hall says they are ready.

"The first one that will arrive will be the PfizeBioNTech vaccine that requires extreme cooling. So there are facilities in our community that can do that," Hall explained.

The Pfizer vaccine might not be the only one available in 2021.

"You've got two research studies going on in this community. USF, Tampa General with the Novavax vaccine study, and then the VA doing the Johnson and Johnson vaccine studies," Dr. Jason Wilson, the associate medical director for emergency medicine at Tampa General Hospital said. 

"You're gonna have multiple vaccines available to people at one time is what's likely going to happen by January or February."

TGH has a plan for the second phase of vaccination which they hope will begin in early 2021, if there is enough supply.

In that round, they will vaccinate additional doctors, people older than 65 with health conditions, first responders, law enforcement, and essential workers.

For the rest of us, we will likely have to wait much longer to get the vaccine.

"It's still dependent on how many available vaccines that we have,” said Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist with USF Health and Tampa General Hospital. “And what that means is both the production capacity of Pfizer and Moderna to make more of their vaccines, but also for the other vaccines that are in trials right now to come up and get urgent authorization and be able to be produced.”

As for Teng's best guess on when every day people could get the vaccine?

"I still think you know, it's going to be summertime before you, or I, can get one of these.”

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