Regina Ramos and Santiago Del Valle, who live together in Caguas, are both over 65. They were eager to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.
“We used to travel a lot,” Ramos said. “Now, I just leave the house to go to church and the supermarket. [Del Valle] doesn’t go out.”
The couple is retired, but during the pandemic, they’ve been taking care of their grandson – and acting as informal tutors during the virtual academic year.
“We worked with him until late at night,” Ramos said. The sheer volume of assignments – and the challenges of navigating virtual technology – was daunting. “We were not prepared for this.”
The Puerto Rico Department of Health has set up 11 large-scale vaccination sites around the island. The goal is to immunize more than 620,000 people by the end of June. According to the Puerto Rico National Guard, more than 320,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine have arrived in Puerto Rico. More than 160,000 people have received their first dose.
Ramos and Del Valle were among those 160,000.
“We are hoping to take a trip soon,” said Del Valle.
Local Organizations Step Up
Gladys Cisneros and her daughter Betsy Suárez received the Moderna vaccine at the Yolanda Guerrero Cultural Center in Guaynabo, where VOCES, Puerto Rico’s main immunization coalition and a longtime Direct Relief partner, is running a vaccination site.
Cisneros, who lives alone, has not been able to see her family. She has only been communicating with them by phone.
“[The vaccine] gave us hope,” Suárez said. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lilliam Rodríguez, Executive Director of VOCES, hopes to expand their vaccination initiative to both increase the pace of immunization and reach more people.
Like VOCES, the island’s community health centers have spearheaded the fight against COVID through testing sites, contact tracing, monitoring of patients who have tested positive. Now, they’re administering vaccines.
Direct Relief has supported the centers throughout the entirety of the pandemic, mainly through the provision of grants, PPE, and tent donations, telehealth services. Direct Relief also outfitted all Puerto Rico’s health centers with medical-grade refrigerators to boost the clinics’ capacity to store temperature-sensitive medications and vaccines.
One health center, Health Pro Med, is already immunizing 300 people per day, according to its executive director, Ivonne Rivera.
“Everything is running smoothly,” she said.