Getting COVID-19 doses to people in Puerto Rico presents some special challenges. The vaccines require special low temperatures and must be used in short time after becoming available. The use of liquid nitrogen and dry ice has been the main method of keeping the temperatures needed so far. However, these methods require special training and safety equipment. Many people in Puerto Rico have transportation issues or live in remote areas, so it is difficult for them to reach vaccination clinics.
After a drop in new cases in January and February, Puerto Rico saw a spike in new cases in April. As of this writing, there are 167,320 total reported cases.
Only about 16% of people on the Island are fully vaccinated, compared with 30% in the United States overall. Just 26% have received at least one dose.
Doctors Without Borders is working with Puerto Rico Salud, the Puerto Rico Department of Health, and the Colegio de Profesionales de Enfermería de Puerto Rico to reach those who have not yet had access to the vaccine.
An important element of getting more access to vaccines is the use of ultra low temperature (ULT) freezers. Stirling Ultracold has been named the exclusive supplier for Puerto Rico. In partnership with Select Gases of Atlanta, Georgia, and Bionuclear of Puerto Rico, the National Guard will be working to acquire and place a total of 44 ULT freezers. These include 4 upright freezers, 20 smaller freezers, and 20 portable freezers.
Each portable freezer can hold up to 7,000 doses. They can be plugged into ordinary wall sockets, or plugs in vehicles. The drive across Puerto Rico is about 6 hours. The upright freezers will form a single hub which will allow implementation of the portable freezers to get doses of the vaccine to more remote areas.
Undercounter freezers can be used to create vaccination hubs as needed.Stirling freezers ar the only ones that can maintain the correct temperatures for both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The National Guard
Major General José Reyes, Adjutant General to the Puerto Rico Army National Guard, has set a goal to vaccinate 85% of Puerto Ricans by August 31, 2021. Vaccines are now available for everyone 16 and older.
Using the hub and spoke plan, the National Guard will activate hundreds of vaccination clinics across the island.