Moffitt, BayCare begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to frontline workers

Two more Bay Area hospitals will start using the doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine delivered to them this week.

The Moffitt Cancer Center received about 500 doses from Tampa General Hospital. BayCare, which operates 15 hospitals in the area, is set to receive nearly 5,000 doses. Those doses will be given to healthcare workers.

Dr. Patrick Hwu, Moffitt's President and CEO, was among the first 600 doctors, nurses and employees to receive the vaccine.

RELATED: 13,148 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Thursday; 101 new deaths

"This is perhaps the most effective, safest vaccine ever created," Dr. Hwu said. "I would never ask anybody to do something that I wasn't willing to do myself."

Dr. Hwu is one of the Tampa Bay area's premier cancer treatment experts and he shed some light on Pfizer's vaccine; he said this is a new technology in the development of general vaccinations, but has been used in cancer treatments for a long time.

"This formulation has been around longer than people think. It's a new kind of way to make a vaccine, but in cancer research, we've used this kind of formulation for years now," Dr. Hwu said. "Many cancer patients have gotten this kind of vaccine on clinical trials for years now with minimal side effects."

PREVIOUS: Pinellas County set to begin COVID-19 vaccinations in nursing homes

Hwu said Moderna's vaccine, which could be shipped in the coming days, was developed in a very similar way. Once those doses arrive in Florida, he hopes to be able to immunize the rest of his staff and some patients.

"COVID has been a terrible pandemic. Cancer is also a pandemic that kills many people and just because there's COVID, cancer doesn't stop."

On Wednesday, AdventHealth began offering shots to 13,000 of its team members. On the same day, Pinellas County began vaccinations in nursing homes.

The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County offered nearly 2,000 Pfizer vaccines to long-term care facilities Wednesday out of their stock of about 10,700 doses. The county was one of two to receive a shipment of Pfizer's vaccine.

Governor Ron DeSantis said 21,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were split between nursing homes in the Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg areas, with emergency medical technicians and Florida National Guard medical personnel visiting the homes to give the shots.

Over the last six weeks, the number of nursing home patients testing positive statewide has risen from 1 in 200 to 1 in 75, he said.

"Time is of the essence," he said. "We believe the quicker you can get in to vaccinate, the better it is going to be.

TGH, the largest hospital in Tampa Bay, was one of five Florida hospitals to receive vaccines first. Hospital officials said they will continue distributing to other hospitals as needed.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


Map of known COVID-19 cases:

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map