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Puerto Rico National Guard allocates $557K for COVID-19 vaccine storage freezers

As Puerto Rico government and health officials prepare to receive the first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Puerto Rico National Guard is also gearing up to assist in the effort to store the meds and in the logistics behind the immunization process.

In anticipation of the vaccine’s arrival, earlier this year the PRNG received a $300,000 allocation from the local government’s share of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to purchase ultra-low temperature freezers.

That amount is part of the global $557,324 budget the PRNG has to buy a total of 44 cold storage units — split between stand-up, under counter, and mobile — with different volume capacities.

In an interview with this media outlet, Major General José J. Reyes, Adjutant General of the PRNG, confirmed that the military body issued an emergency request for quotes last month through the General Services Administration, and received proposals from five companies — BioNuclear of Puerto Rico, FISVIC, TALUNA, VWR, and Integra Bioprocessing — to provide freezers.

The PRNG ultimately went with BioNuclear, which he said was the most qualified vendor based on the selection criteria of product specifications, delivery time, product price and shipping costs.

As reported, the island is expected to receive the first COVID-19 vaccines from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna starting next week. While Pfizer’s vaccines require storage units with a temperature of -80 degrees Celsius, Moderna’s product can hold for 30 days in temperatures of between eight and 10 degrees Celsius.

The vaccination process will be divided in three phases to attend to vulnerable populations first: front line workers; the elderly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities; and the 65-and-older population living on their own.

The 44 freezers to be acquired are broken down into: four stand-up units with the capacity to store up to 300,000 vaccine vials each; 12 under-counter freezers that can store up to 36,000 vaccine vials each; and 20 portable/mobile freezers, which can store up to 9,000 vials each, and that the PRNG will assign to the regional distribution centers in support of the Puerto Rico Health Department.

The regional distribution centers are: Fort Buchanan in San Juan as the main hub, supporting the Health Department’s Metro and Bayamón regions; Caguas, supporting the agency’s Caguas and Fajardo regions; Mayaguez; Ponce; and Arecibo.

The PRNG also identified the University of Puerto Rico’s Carolina Hospital and the Ponce Medical School as alternate distribution centers.

The federal government has ordered the production of approximately 100 million COVID-19 vaccines at a cost of more than $11 million nationwide. The vaccines will be allocated pro rata by population to ensure a fair and equitable distribution across the U.S. The supply will continually increase in the weeks and months that follow the first vaccination phase.

Puerto Rico expects to receive 1 million vaccines during the first phase and, while they will arrive on commercial cargo planes, they will be transported in military cargo vehicles, the PRNG confirmed.

“We anticipate arrival before the end of this month, which is why we have proceeded to purchase the ultra-cold freezers. We will be ready to store the vials and begin Phase 1 vaccination,” the military body said.

The PRNG anticipates having at least 45 soldiers per vaccination site at any given time, to support medical screening, control traffic and manage registration.

In addition to PRNG soldiers, at least 74 support personnel should be available at each site, including logistics staff, nurses and other medical professionals representing other organizations, such as the Puerto Rico Health Department, the PRNG said.

“The Puerto Rico National Guard has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic since day one, actively encouraging our citizens to stay home, to wear their protective masks and maintain social distancing,” Reyes said.

“As of today, we have medically evaluated more than 1.3 million passengers at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. We have also administered molecular tests to more than 123,000 first responders and administered blood and molecular tests to nearly 12,000 people at elderly homes throughout the island, including patients and staff,” said Reyes.

In preparation for the COVID-19 vaccination, in October the PRNG kicked off the “Flu-Marathon” initiative together with nonprofit coalition VOCES, the Puerto Rico Health Department and the Puerto Rico Health Services Administration.

“Every weekend we visit a different municipality and conduct flu vaccination drive-thru events. The logistics for the COVID-19 vaccination will be similar to those we put in effect for the flu vaccine. Each location will be divided in four main areas: medical screening, registration, vaccination and observation,” Reyes said.

“Our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico is stronger than ever and we will continue working tirelessly to beat the virus,” he said.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 29 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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