According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Puerto Rico has fully vaccinated 73 percent of its 3.3 million residents, for a total of 2.3 million vaccinated individuals, CNN's Ray Sanchez reports. Experts attribute Puerto Rico's vaccination rate success to an early and rapid response toward preventing the spread of Covid-19 and the people's willingness to comply with the restrictions placed by the local government, reports Nicole Acevedo for NBC News.
Before the start of the pandemic, Puerto Rico was already struggling with a fragile healthcare system—with 72 percent of the island's 78 municipalities medically underserved and facing a health professional shortage, Nicole Acevedo reported for NBC News in 2020. Island residents were simultaneously experiencing political and economic unrest while recovering from damage caused by Hurricane Maria and a series of earthquakes.
"All those emergencies and collective trauma primed Puerto Rico and the leadership, the scientific community, the healthcare community," Daniel Colón Ramos, a neuroscience expert at Yale University and president of Puerto Rico's Scientific Coalition, tells NBC News. "There was a sense of urgency. A lot of people that I have worked with, their attitude was like: Not on my watch. Not again." (Ramos also advised Governor Pedro Pierluisi on the island's response to Covid-19.)
Puerto Rico has managed to administer more than 4.8 million vaccine doses. Among the contiguous United States, Vermont has the highest percentage of fully vaccinated people at 70.9 percent, followed by other New England states including Connecticut at 70.2 percent, and Maine with 70.1 percent, CNN reports.
The island did have a rough start controlling the spread of Covid-19, with the lowest per-capita testing rate compared to mainland states and no contact tracing system.
However, Puerto Rico was one of the first U.S. jurisdictions to mandate the use of masks, per NBC News reports. Other actions that curbed the spread of the virus include vaccine education programs, vaccination events, lockdowns, curfew times, and rigorous sanitary measures. Vaccination events were coordinated by the National Guard in shopping malls and remote rural towns, with an emphasis on vaccinating the elderly and other high risk populations, CNN reports.
"We will go wherever we need to go to vaccinate people. 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," Victor Ramos, the president of Puerto Rico's Association of Physicians and Surgeons, tells CNN.
In total, Puerto Rico has had 151,245 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 3,219 deaths throughout the pandemic. In comparison, Connecticut, which is roughly the same size as Puerto Rico, has had over 400,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 8,721 deaths, per CNN.