SAN JUAN Ė Just nine months since the onset of the coronavirus crisis in Puerto Rico, the United States commonwealth became on Tuesday one of the first territories worldwide to launch a COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
San Juanís Ashford Presbyterian Community Hospital was the first medical facility on the Caribbean island to start inoculating health professionals, followed by Hospital Damas and Hospital Episcopal San Lucas in Ponce and the Doctors Center Hospital in Carolina, among others.
The campaign is to be extended to all of Puerto Ricoís 65 hospitals over the next few hours.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being rolled out at a time when the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Puerto Rico has risen to 60,668 and 1,294 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.
The process began on a day in which the Puerto Rico Department of Health reported 12 new deaths from the pandemic, as well as 304 new confirmed cases and 281 probable and suspected cases.
The chief executive officer of the Ashford Presbyterian Community Hospital, Domingo Cruz, told EFE that the goal is for 100 vaccines to be administered to health professionals at that facility on Tuesday.
Respiratory therapist Yahaira Alicea, who in March treated the islandís first hospitalized coronavirus patients (an Italian couple), was chosen to be the first recipient of the vaccine.
ďItís a way to protect us and protect them too,Ē Alicea said when asked about her familyís reaction.
Cruz, meanwhile, said emergency personnel would be the first to be inoculated and that some 1,000 people should receive the vaccine over a period of one week at that hospital, including both employees and outside staff.
All of the hospitalís employees will receive a second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 21 days, a two-dose method that epidemiologists say is necessary to achieve maximum efficacy.
The administrator of Hospital Damas, Maria Mercedes Torres, said the first doses of the vaccine were received on Tuesday and will be administered over the next few days to medical personnel.
The rollout at the islandís 65 hospitals is part of the first phase of the vaccine launch (1-A), in which health professionals, hospital employees and emergency response personnel, as well as nursing home residents and staff, are to be inoculated.
The vaccine developed by New York-based Pfizer and Mainz, Germany-based BioNTech was the first to be approved for use in the US and its territories by the Food and Drug Administration.
The goal of Puerto Rican authorities is for at least 70 percent of the islandís population to become inoculated Ė a level considered sufficient for herd immunity (community protection that occurs when a critical amount of the population is immune to a certain disease) to be achieved.
The campaign at hospitals began after the National Guard started distributing the vaccine early Tuesday from a storage facility at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, the biggest city on the south part of the island.
National Guard Gen. Jose Juan Reyes said the vaccine will be distributed simultaneously via 23 different routes, a process involving a total of 600 troops.
The first 16,575 doses of the vaccine arrived on Monday in Puerto Rico from the US state of Tennessee.
Phase 1-A of the vaccine rollout will last between two and three weeks and be followed by phase 1-B, in which multiple vaccination centers will be opened throughout the island to inoculate people over the age of 65 who are not nursing home residents and health personnel not employed at hospitals.
The executive director of the Puerto Rico Community Pharmacies Association, Linda Ayala, said her organization is ready to start vaccinating people once phase 1-B starts within the next four weeks.