CDC Foundation Partners Make Possible Large-scale Vaccination Initiative in Puerto Rico

More than six months ago, the lives of Puerto Ricans were drastically changed when Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the island. Some communities have improved, but many areas are still recovering from the impact of the storms. On a recent visit, we were inspired to see the work of our partners on the ground who are making a difference.

Puerto Rico’s healthcare system was devastated after the hurricanes. Many clinics were shut down or lost the power needed to operate at full capacity. This created many needs, including a tremendous shortage in vaccines. With support from donors and the work of local partners, the CDC Foundation is working to meet this need by funding public health efforts across the island, including mobilizing an island-wide, large-scale vaccination initiative that is delivering much-needed vaccinations to help prevent influenza, hepatitis, tuberculosis, pneumonia and more.

As a part of the CDC Foundation's support of this work, vaccination clinics have been held across the island since February, including an island-wide event on Saturday, March 10, 2018, which was hosted by the Puerto Rico Department of Health, VOCES and other partners. On this day, there were 56 vaccination events organized in 41 municipalities across the island. This large-scale campaign was made possible because of the significant contributions from CDC Foundation donors—Kaiser Permanente, Amgen Foundation and multiple individuals.

It is very important to work in collaboration because everyone brings something, and we are able to maximize the resources when we work together.

As a part of the rebuilding process in Puerto Rico, preventing additional health issues is critical. The vaccination clinics are offering protection for many thousands of people throughout the island. “There was a flu outbreak in 2018, and we want people to protect themselves so another outbreak doesn’t happen,” said Dr. Angel Rivera, director of the vaccination program at the Puerto Rico Department of Health. “The hurricane created a perfect storm, with the loss of the vaccination supply, need for vaccination education and the loss of power.”

Not only is the work of the CDC Foundation helping to jumpstart critical programs, but it is also working to bring partners together. “VOCES is thankful that the CDC Foundation was the first organization to provide funds for this project,” said Lilliam Rodriguez, president and founder of VOCES Puerto Rico. “It is very important to work in collaboration because everyone brings something, and we are able to maximize the resources when we work together.”

The vaccination events are also bringing communities together, providing information and products to keep everyone healthy. Resources from partnering organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were provided to participants. Through a partnership with the CDC Foundation, SC Johnson provided 1 million Off! Wipes to distribute during public health events in both Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands (USVI), and the CDC Foundation is grateful to UPS for providing shipment for the wipes from Puerto Rico to USVI.

It is a privilege to see our donors’ contributions in action and to work with the many organizations who are serving communities and helping to keep families healthy in Puerto Rico. As we traveled throughout the island, we were constantly inspired by the people we met. Many are hopeful as they see changes in their communities. While their homes and workplaces were damaged and destroyed, they push on with determination—many with smiles on their faces. We met people who talked about how the hurricanes created a stronger sense of unity. While they will never forget the devastation and still face many hardships, communities are coming together to help out each other.

While there is still so much to be done, we are inspired by the progress. To support the work in Puerto Rico and USVI, you can give to the hurricane response fund. No donation is too small and all donations will make a significant impact. Help us help our neighbors and friends in Puerto Rico and USVI continue to rebuild their communities.


Rachel Powell Lewis, PhD, MPH, is a senior program officer for the CDC Foundation.
Turquoise Sidibe, MPH, is a senior program officer for the CDC Foundation.