Puerto Rico to launch COVID-19 vaccinations in mid-December

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Officials in Puerto Rico announced Wednesday that the U.S. territory expects to receive its first COVID-19 vaccines by mid-December as the island hits a record number of daily cases and hospitalizations.

Health care workers, teachers and certain public sector employees are among those who will take priority, officials said.

“This will be the best gift we can receive,” said Health Secretary Lorenzo González.

Puerto Rico requested 1 million vaccines, but not all are expected to arrive at once, said José Reyes, adjutant general of the Puerto Rico National Guard, which will help distribute them.

Many have worried how a U.S. territory that struggles with daily power outages will store vaccines that require extremely cold temperatures, but Reyes said they have three containers available that will provide the proper temperature.

The island of 3.2 million people has reported more than 47,000 confirmed cases, more than 39,000 probable ones and more than 1,000 deaths.

González said a record 17 people died on Nov. 17, the highest daily death load since the pandemic began. In addition, some 600 confirmed cases are being reported daily, he said.

The U.S. territory recently launched a highly praised program in which free rapid testing was provided at toll booths across the island. More than 25,000 people participated, with health care workers detecting more than 800 confirmed positive cases, epidemiologist Fabiola Cruz said.