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“It’s certainly been a challenging year and it’s nice to be able to at least see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there was a sense of hope for Dr. Nainesh Parikh, an interventional radiologist at Moffitt Cancer Center.

After months of quarantining, social distancing and wearing head-to-toe personal protective equipment, Parikh was one of the 600 frontline health care workers to receive the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday.


While those safety measures aren’t going away just yet, the day marked a very important step in returning to a world without COVID-19.

“I think we’re very fortunate and lucky to be among the first to have been given the vaccine so that we can treat our patients without any sort of fear or concern,” Parikh said. “It’s remarkable that we’re at this point so quickly that we’ve been able to actually have some hope for the future where we wont have to worry about COVID anymore.”

Jennifer McClennon, a clinical nurse specialist, administered the first vaccine around 8:30 Thursday morning. What followed was nine hours of doctors, nurses and support staff filing into the halls of the Stabile Research Building, each waiting for their chance to participate in one of the most historic days in Moffitt’s 34-year history.

Jennifer McClennon administers the COVID-19 vaccine on a Moffitt team member

“It was a mixture of excitement and nerves,” McClennon said. “It was exciting because we’re changing lives.”

Hours later she found herself on the other side of the table receiving a vaccine of her own.

“I kind of got emotional,” McClennon said. “About 15 minutes before it was my turn, I realized the significance of today and what this all means. What it means for our future health. I think it’s a wonderful thing and I’m looking forward to seeing more of our staff get vaccinated.”

Like a number of others, the decision to accept the vaccine wasn’t immediate for McClennon. She weighed the pros and cons of the disease itself and the possibility of lingering effects.  Ultimately, she was happy with her decision to opt for the vaccine, rather than go another day running the risk of being infected by the virus.

If you find yourself wondering about the safety of the vaccine, Moffitt President and CEO Dr. Patrick Hwu has straightforward advice: “Take it. Take this vaccine.”

Moffitt President & CEO, Dr. Patrick Hwu receives a COVID-19 vaccine

“It’s one of the safest, most effective vaccines ever created,” Hwu said. “I’m so excited about it. It’ll get the COVID pandemic behind us so we can go on living our lives and continuing our mission of treating our cancer patents.”

Though Moffitt patients don’t have access to a COVID vaccine just yet, if there’s any question about safety among cancer patients Hwu’s advice doesn’t change.

“It grew out of cancer research,” Hwu said. “This form of vaccine has been in hundreds of cancer patients with minimal side effects. We know this platform is safe.”