Before the COVID-19 pandemic even arrived in the U.S., TSA officials at Tampa International Airport (TPA) observed airport security and planning for the 2020 Super Bowl in Miami, preparing for their turn as host airport in 2021. At no time during that week did logistics for delivering 300 vaccine injections against a deadly worldwide pandemic come up.
Just weeks after last year’s Super Bowl, professional sports seasons paused because of the pandemic and weren’t started again until medical professionals and administrators learned the best way to safely allow players to return to competition.
For TSA Tampa, “game on” meant modifying the Super Bowl event playbook with COVID-19 protocols. In a year filled with adaptation, nothing in the intervening months challenged TSA Tampa more than the recent rush to mobilize COVID-19 inoculations. The administration of vaccines TSA supported was part of the DHS Super Bowl LV support initiative and was hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater.
“This isn’t just about our personal health, this is about the health and protection of our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and the traveling public,” said TPA Federal Security Director (FSD) Kirk Skinner. I feel we have an obligation that accompanies our commitment to serve this nation, an obligation to protect. Getting the vaccine fulfills that obligation and demonstrates the fulfillment of our oath.”
TPA Assistant FSD Greg Mertz requested and received 300 of the first doses for TPA. TSA Manager David Stewart coordinated sign-up and scheduling efforts. All TPA colleagues were offered the vaccine and once confirmed, they committed to showing up on time at the Clearwater Coast Guard Air Station. The U.S. Coast Guard clinic administered the TSA vaccines for three consecutive days, serving 20 people every 20 minutes.
“I have family that is high risk and anything I can do to help protect them and others around me is just the right thing to do,” said TPA Transportation Security Manager Scott Hill about his vaccination motivation. “I felt very positive about getting the vaccination when it came available. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it!’”
“My arm where I received the vaccination was a little sore the next day,” recalled Hill. “I had no side effects and felt great. I am looking forward to the booster and encourage anyone who can get the vaccination to do so.”
Once all other TSA personnel had been given the opportunity to be vaccinated, Skinner was fortunate to accept the last dose available. “The devastating effects of COVID are very real, and as the Federal Security Director I’m hopeful that my example in accepting the vaccine would encourage our entire workforce to do the same.”