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'I Didn't Feel A Thing:' Gulf Breeze Senior Facility Gets First Round Of COVID Vaccine

Christmas came early at Bay Breeze Senior Living and Rehabilitation Center in Gulf Breeze as residents and staff got the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning. 

Joe Rich, pharmacist at the Gulf Breeze CVS just down the road, administered the vaccine to a staff member and resident outside the facility — the first doses in Gulf Breeze. After each shot, staff cheered. 

“I didn’t feel a thing,” said 91-year-old Eileen Costello. 

Costello said she’s been watching CNN and following the news around the vaccine. She had no reservations about getting it. 

“I’m not afraid,” she said before getting the shot. “If I do (get side effects) it’s better than really getting sick and die.” 

Tuesday was a “big day of hope,” said Justin Gibson, administrator at Bay Breeze. 

Gibson had just returned to work from quarantine Tuesday after testing positive with COVID and having minor symptoms. He said about 60 residents and staff — mostly residents — would receive the vaccine. Those within the 90-day window of testing positive, like Gibson, will be waiting to get the vaccine. 

According to data from the Florida Department of Health, the facility currently has 11 COVID-positive residents and 19 COVID-positive staff members. The facility has had five COVID deaths. 

After nine months of isolated residents, quarantines and death, the vaccine has brought a feeling of “pure joy” to the facility. 

“It is very hard,” Gibson said about keeping staff and residents safe in the pandemic. “It’s been a frightening thing at times, but we did everything in our power that we possibly could.”  

Tommy Hulsey, director of risk management for Gulf Coast Healthcare, was one of the staff members to get the vaccine. He said the past nine months have been a “roller-coaster ride.” Since the vaccine is not mandated, Hulsey said he decided to get one to show others that it’s safe. 

“I’m elated — beyond excited — just for the sheer fact we have a vaccine in within one year,” he said. “I think this is just monumental.” 

Credit Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media
Pharmacist Joe Rich talks to Bay Breeze resident Eileen Costello before administering the COVID-19 vaccine.

So far, there have been 43,716 vaccinations administered in the state, according to FDOH. On Monday, frontline workers at Ascension Sacred Heart and Baptist Health Care received their first dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine. 

“It’s literally a shot in the arm to the defense against COVID,” said Dawn Rudolph, president of Ascension Sacred Heart. “And it’s a more meaningful way to protect our health care workers than what we’ve been able to do.” 

About 30 frontline workers received the vaccine at Ascension Sacred Heart.  As the supply increases, they will begin looking at vaccinating “outside of hospital walls,” said Rudolph. 

The fact that the vaccine was rolled out so quickly was a point of reservation for some. Gary Foster, who was bringing a birthday present to his 92-year-old mother, Ruth, said he felt “mixed” about the vaccine although he ultimately gave his OK for her to receive it Tuesday. 

He hasn’t been able to see his mother, who has dementia, since March. A vaccine may the quickest way to return to some normalcy, he said. 

“That’s what I’m hoping for is to be able to get the facility open again and be able to see her,” Foster said. 

But according to Pharmacist Joe Rich, elderly seniors should “absolutely get it.”

“To me, that’s a no-brainer,” he said. 

Rich said the focus is to continue vaccinating high-risk people. When it would be available to the public would be “pure speculation.” The good news is that it’s coming. 

“Today, we start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”