Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,
This is a historic year in so many ways, and our conversations reflect that, studded with terms that have grown all too familiar: Unprecedented. Uncertain. New normal.
And now we are on the cusp of a revolutionary development in the progress we’re making on the pandemic, and we can add a few more phrases to the mix: Extraordinary. Hopeful. Humbling.
And perhaps the most important word of all — Here. The COVID-19 vaccine is about to be here.
That fact is nothing short of remarkable. You might even say unparalleled. And a true testament to the power of science.
As I’m sure you’ve now heard, the FDA cleared the Pfizer vaccine under an Emergency Use Authorization Friday night. Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met to discuss final recommendations for prioritizing who should get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the basis for the CDC’s official guidance.
We expect to receive a shipment today of approximately 20,000 doses of the vaccine to UF Health Jacksonville, which has been designated one of the “Pfizer Five” — a handful of sites in Florida selected to receive the initial distribution. We are actively working with local, state and federal agencies, and this week, we anticipate beginning to administer the vaccine for free to the first groups of select faculty and staff based on the criteria the CDC established, starting with front-line health care workers and staff deemed high priority because they are caring for COVID-19 patients and/or working in areas like the emergency room where they are most likely to encounter an exposure.
UF Health Jacksonville also is working to coordinate distribution to other health care facilities in Jacksonville, along with our health campuses in Gainesville and Central Florida, and while the timing is still being worked out, in short order similar groups will be offered the vaccine. This is an incredible example of the power of One UF and One UF Health at work. At the same time, state officials are designating some shipments to long-term care facilities, whose residents are among those at highest risk for serious or even deadly complications of COVID-19.
The vaccine is not mandatory: Employees will be able to choose whether they receive it, although we strongly encourage participation to protect yourselves, your loved ones, your colleagues and our patients. We will be providing additional educational materials to answer questions you’ll likely have.
We anticipate we will begin to receive additional shipments of the vaccine once every week or two weeks, allowing us to continue to offer it to additional faculty and staff at UF Health and surrounding community health care workers. In time, with input from state and federal officials, we will know more about when we will be able to offer the vaccine to faculty, staff and students at the broader university. And given our role as one of the country’s premier academic health centers, we will also fill another extremely important public health mission: serving Floridians by eventually helping to cascade the vaccine out to our local communities and around the state, including rural or underserved areas.
Details are still evolving and we will provide more information online and through a variety of other communications channels as it becomes available, but I wanted to share this news as soon as we learned it. Be sure to keep an eye out for additional emails for the latest updates. Please continue to regularly visit our public websites at coronavirus.ufhealth.org, coronavirus.ufhealth.org/screen-test-protect and coronavirus.ufl.edu. Students, faculty and staff associated with UF Health in Gainesville and Jacksonville also can access our Bridge intranet site at https://bridge.UFHealth.org.
In this holiday season, this is a powerful gift of hope. We are now marking the beginning of the end of this pandemic, or the end of the beginning, depending on how you want to look at it. And after all, isn’t hope the heart of so many holiday traditions?
For months, UF Health has helped lead the way forward during the pandemic, notably through an exhaustive approach to testing and contact tracing as part of Screen, Test & Protect. I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude for the efforts of our experts, led by Dr. Michael Lauzardo, who have stood up this program that has enabled the university to continue to fulfill its important missions of teaching, discovery, patient care and service to others.
We’re thrilled to now add Vaccinate under the Protect part of that umbrella. That’s because we have great confidence in the vaccine’s ability to help keep us all safe. Not only can it help prevent you from becoming ill with COVID-19, the more people who are vaccinated, the more it also protects those around us as well — our friends, families, colleagues and others. This is a natural extension of the culture of care and compassion we’ve embraced as a campus community during these trying times.
We are confident in the research that has shown the vaccine to be safe and effective. The fact that we have a vaccine to administer less than a year after the start of the pandemic is astonishing, but reassuring. That’s because shortcuts were never taken when it comes to the science. When we say we trust the vaccine, what we mean is we are trusting the data behind the vaccine. And we trust that it will help save countless lives. It’s not enough to diagnose and treat COVID-19. We must prevent it as well. Let’s lead by example.
Even amid our excitement, we are mindful that for some in our country and around the world, this news comes too late. Many of you may have friends or families who have been directly impacted by COVID-19. Our hearts go out to you and yours.
And that’s why we must not let down our guard. Please continue to wear a mask, practice physical distancing and frequent handwashing, and avoid large social gatherings. With a bit more patience, we will get to that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel as safely as possible.
As I’ve shared before, I am mindful of the sacrifices, both personal and professional, that many of you have made — the long hours, the time away from friends and family, the countless ways you have volunteered to help your colleagues and classmates. I’d also like to acknowledge the tireless work of the university’s faculty and staff, including our scientists whose research discoveries and advances have also made a significant impact on our understanding and treatment of COVID-19. And to extend my deep appreciation for the resilience and heroism of our front-line caregivers, including lab personnel, respiratory therapists, nurses and members of our environmental services, transport and ECMO teams, among many others. You are all what makes this university and its health system great, and I thank you for all you continue to do.
David R. Nelson, M.D.
Senior Vice President for Health Affairs, UF &
President, UF Health