• The Star Staff

First COVID-19 inoculation goes to respiratory therapist

By John McPhaul


Yahaira Alicea, a respiratory therapist in charge of giving primary therapies in an emergency room in San Juan, was the first person to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in Puerto Rico on Tuesday morning.

Alicea was vaccinated at Ashford Hospital in Condado, followed by other health care personnel, the medical institution announced in a written statement.

On Monday morning Puerto Rico received 16,575 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine against COVID-19, which were authorized by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last Friday.

Of that first shipment of vaccines, Ashford Hospital received 975 doses.

The second person to be immunized against COVID-19 was gynecologist Manuel Velilla. He was chosen for early vaccination due to the age factor, given that he is 75 years old.

Dr. Roberto Carlo, a urologist who performs biopsy studies at the hospital, followed in the vaccination process. As soon as he learned of the need to store the vaccines at -80 degrees Celsius (-112 Fahrenheit), he made his freezer available, Ashford Hospital reported.

Then came epidemiologist Hilda Alemán, who was an essential part of patient management, conducting COVID tests on employees to determine if they were exposed to infection, and follow-up to verify health status and whether or not they developed symptoms.

Also inoculated was Dr. Carlos Álvarez, medical director of Ashford’s emergency room and a member of the COVID committee, which establishes the protocol and guidelines for managing patients with COVID-19, as well as educating employees.

Next came Dr. Samuel Suárez, a pulmonologist and member of the medical faculty who treated the Italian tourist and the first case of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, Doña Rosa, in the intensive care room.

Suárez actively participates in the clinical management of COVID patients and is also a member of the hospital’s COVID-19 committee.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced said in Monday’s written statement announcing the arrival of the first 16,575 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine: “As we anticipated on Saturday, once the FDA authorized the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, already today [Monday] we have begun to receive them and vaccines will continue to arrive this week.”

“These will be distributed to the 65 hospitals in Puerto Rico, and will begin to be administered tomorrow [Tuesday], simultaneously, following what is stipulated by the federal Department of Health [and Human Services] (HHS),” the governor said in the statement.

Vázquez added that the FedEx overnight delivery network is well positioned to handle COVID-19 vaccine shipments worldwide, with temperature control solutions, near real-time monitoring, and a team of healthcare experts dedicated to supporting the diligent transportation of vaccines and bioscience shipments, she said.