How Puerto Rico became America’s most vaccinated place

“There is a Walgreens on every corner,” said Rafael Irizzary, professor of biostatistics at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard. “Everywhere you go, they have everything you need. Rum. Coffee. You get your fireworks and then you go get your shot.”

Irizzary was only half joking about vaccination rates and the more than 100 Walgreens outlets in Puerto Rico.

“All of these collective emergencies and traumas have prepared Puerto Rico and leaders, the scientific community, the healthcare community,” said Daniel Colón Ramos, professor at Yale School of Medicine who chairs the coronavirus coalition advising the government . “There was a sense of urgency. A lot of people I worked with, their attitude was like, Not under my watch. Not yet.”

Puerto Rico has fully vaccinated just over 73 percent of its 3.3 million people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s over 2.3 million people.

The island has the highest rate of total vaccine doses administered, with 154,563 per 100,000 population. He had administered 4.9 million doses as of Friday, according to the CDC.

On the mainland, Vermont leads with 70.8% of the population fully vaccinated, followed by Connecticut at 70.2% and Maine at 70%, according to the CDC, which added just over 57% of the total United States population was fully vaccinated on Friday. .
Dr Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter that Puerto Rico’s ‘fabulous’ vaccination efforts have ‘received too little attention’.

“As far as I know, they did it largely by not tying vaccines to politics,” Jha wrote last weekend. “They pay less attention to continental politics. All of their political parties actively support vaccinations. And generally, the politicians [identity] & vaccinations are not mixed up. “

Not only is Puerto Rico poor compared to much of the mainland, Jha noted, it also has a larger population than 21 states. It’s about “5 times the size” of Vermont, he wrote. The island’s poverty rate was around 43% in 2018, up from 13% nationally and more than double Mississippi’s 19.7%, according to the US Census Bureau.

“Lots of lives saved”

“It represents a lot of lives saved,” Colón Ramos said of the island’s successful vaccination. “It’s really about the fact that there are hundreds of people – if not thousands – right now somewhere in Puerto Rico and they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for these efforts.”

Dr Iris Cardona, chief medical officer of the island’s health department, attributed the success to the teamwork of the scientific community, the private sector, government agencies, medical associations and schools, the Guard national, religious and municipal leaders.

More people are getting reminders of the new Covid-19 vaccines.  And others may soon become eligible for an extra shot

“It’s a collaborative exercise,” said Cardona, who oversees the immunization program. “With the hardships that the whole world knows Puerto Rico has endured over the past five years – hurricanes, earthquakes, political and fiscal crises – the Puerto Rican people at all levels have cooperated.”

This cooperation has included both vaccine education programs and immunization events.

Throughout the pandemic, the island’s government has put in place closures and other restrictions, issued mask and vaccination warrants, and put in place strict rules for indoor dining and social distancing. , according to members of the Covid-19 coalition.

“In the cultural context of Puerto Rico, social distancing is not something that is easy for us as Puerto Ricans – we want to be close,” Colón Ramos said. “But people have been very successful in navigating it.”

“Coherent message… based on scientific evidence”

Mandates increase immunization rates, but not without compromise

While some states have fiercely resisted Covid-19 restrictions and vaccination warrants, US territory has not.

“Right now the legislature is controlled by one party, the governorate is controlled by another party, but despite these differences… wanting to save lives during the pandemic has never been politicized in Puerto Rico,” Colón said. Ramos.

“Difficult decisions have been made and criticized,” he said. “But, for example, mask mandates were never really politicized. The importance of vaccination was never turned into a political issue. It helped send a consistent message based on scientific evidence.”

From offices to restaurants, businesses require proof of vaccination
Puerto Rico has recorded at least 151,245 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 3,219 reported deaths during the pandemic, according to the island’s health department. Connecticut, which is roughly the same size as Puerto Rico, has recorded more than 400,000 Covid-19 cases and 8,721 deaths.

Dr Víctor Ramos, a pediatrician and president of the Island’s Association of Physicians and Surgeons, said mass vaccination centers have been set up by the National Guard in shopping malls across the island.

There have been door-to-door vaccination events in remote rural towns, where vaccines have been given at home, especially to the elderly and bedridden.

“We will go wherever we need to go to vaccinate people,” Ramos said. “After (hurricane) Maria, a lot of people took refuge in remote towns and we had to go there to help them. We are doing the same now with the vaccine.”

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