Puerto Rico has become the most vaccinated region in the US and why that may be so is interesting.
Puerto Rico has fully vaccinated just over 73% of its 3.3 million residents, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than 2.3 million people.
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 that just over 57% of the total US population was fully vaccinated as of Friday.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter that Puerto Rico’s “fabulous” vaccination efforts have “gotten way too little attention.”
“Best I can tell, they’ve done this largely by not tying vaccines to politics,” Jha wrote last weekend. “They pay less attention to mainland politics. All their political parties actively support vaccinations. And generally, political [identity] & vaccinations are not intermixed.” [My emphasis-MS]
Dr. Iris Cardona, chief medical officer of the island’s health department, attributed the success to teamwork by the scientific community, the private sector, government agencies, medical associations and schools, the National Guard and religious and municipal leadership.
The reasons for the enlightened approach is that the island had been hit repeatedly with disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes and this has resulted in a public health system being created that is better prepared to deal with catastrophes.
Dr. Víctor Ramos, a pediatrician and president of the island’s Association of Physicians and Surgeons, said mass vaccination centers were set up by the National Guard in shopping malls throughout the island.
There were door-to-door vaccination events in remote rural towns, where shots were administered in homes, particularly to the elderly and bedridden.
“We will go wherever we need to go to vaccinate people,” Ramos said. “After (Hurricane) Maria many people were holed up in remote towns and we had to get out there to help them. We’re doing the same now with the vaccine.”
They have been able to do this despite being one of the poorest regions in the US.
Not only is Puerto Rico poor compared to much of the mainland, Jha noted, but it also has a larger population than 21 states. It’s about “5 times bigger” than Vermont, he wrote. The poverty rate on the island was about 43% in 2018, compared to 13% at the national level and more than double Mississippi’s 19.7%, according to the US Census Bureau.
We should applaud the Puerto Rican public health system and the good sense of the Puerto Rican population.