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Puerto Rico Gets Boost in Cold-Storage Capacity for Vaccines

Hurricane Maria destroyed more than 80 percent of Puerto Rico's temperature-sensitive medicines, revealing the need for uninterrupted, cold-chain refrigeration.


Puerto Rico

A flu immunization campaign takes place in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, in March, 2018. Direct Relief has supported vaccination efforts across the island, and is now expanding capacity for cold storage of immunizations and other medications. (Tony Morain/Direct Relief)

Direct Relief is equipping 89 health facilities across Puerto Rico with 164 FDA-compliant, pharmaceutical-grade refrigeration units – expanding the island’s capacity to store temperature-sensitive vaccines, insulin and other temperature-sensitive medication by roughly 6 million vials.

The pharmaceutical and laboratory refrigerators and freezers are scheduled to arrive over the summer of 2019 at every Federally Qualified Health Center on the island and at hospitals and clinics approved by the Puerto Rico Department of Health to store cold-chain medications.

The refrigeration units come at the request of Puerto Rico’s Department of Health and on the heels of Hurricane Maria, which caused the largest blackout in U.S. history and revealed severe vulnerabilities in the island’s cold-storage capacity.

The map above outlines where refrigeration capacity will be expanded in Puerto Rico. Click the map to explore.
The map above outlines where refrigeration capacity will be expanded in Puerto Rico. Click the map to explore.

Health facilities lost power for weeks or months, and more than 80 percent of the island’s vaccines and other medicines requiring refrigeration were destroyed as a result of the power outage, according to the CDC.

Of the 89 health facilities scheduled to receive a refrigeration unit, 88 have backup power in the form of either a diesel generator or solar and battery system, ensuring cold-storage is maintained, even during a disaster that disrupts power or causes blackouts.

Direct Relief’s coordination and purchase of the refrigeration units is made possible with funding from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Puerto Rican Red Cross.

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