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Puerto Rico Launches Largest Public Health Campaign Since Hurricane Maria

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — One of the world’s largest-ever one-day vaccination campaigns happens Saturday, March 10, across Puerto Rico. Up to 25,000 people will be vaccinated against influenza in a daylong event conducted by the VOCES Puerto Rico Vaccination Coalition, Puerto Rico’s Department of Health, The CDC Foundation, Direct Relief and others.

“A year-round flu season, combined with the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria to Puerto Rico’svaccine inventories, has left the island’s population severely vulnerable to influenza and other conditions,” said Lilliam Rodríguez, President and Founder of VOCES Puerto Rico. “Immediate action through immunization is needed to protect the lives and health of the population. Today’s island-wide vaccination campaign aims to close the immunization gap and promote health for all.”

Puerto Rico’s healthcare system was devastated by Hurricane Maria last September, leaving fewer Puerto Ricans vaccinated this flu season. Dozens of clinics were shut and most lost the electrical power needed to refrigerate vaccines. Many clinics still don’t have electrical grid power.

Free influenza vaccinations will be offered Saturday at the 18,500-person capacity Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in San Juan and more than 50 vaccination centers, pharmacies, hospitals and primary health centers throughout the island.

The humanitarian aid group Direct Relief provided 40,000 doses of influenza vaccine donated by pharmaceutical maker Sanofi S.A. for the initiative. Direct Relief is also providing logistics support and funding to rent the Coliseum and hire support staff for the event.

“Sanofi Cares North America is proud to partner with Direct Relief in supporting this unprecedented flu vaccination campaign for the residents of Puerto Rico,” said Peter Lalli, President of Sanofi Cares North America. “We stand with the people of Puerto Rico as the recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria continues.”

Flu has been widespread in Puerto Rico this season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported that “34 states plus Puerto Rico continue to report widespread flu activity,” and while activity dropped from this year’s peak, it still matches the height of the 2015-16 season.

“We remain committed to making vaccines accessible to the Puerto Rican community, and to reach any region of the Island that needs it,” said Dr. Rafael Rodríguez Mercado, Secretary of Health, in a Spanish-language statement issued by VOCES.

In the six months since Hurricane Maria made landfall, Direct Relief has supported 58 health facilities across Puerto Rico with $61.9 million in medications and medical supplies.

“Hurricane Maria dealt a doubly cruel blow to Puerto Rico, devastating countless lives and livelihoods while damaging the health facilities, systems, and infrastructure needed to recover,” said Thomas Tighe, president and CEO, Direct Relief. “That’s why the work of VOCES and others to promote health and wellbeing across Puerto Rico are so critical. It’s a privilege for Direct Relief to support today’s mass immunization campaign and participate in these exceptional efforts to help people in Puerto Ricorecover and live healthy lives.”

About Direct Relief

A humanitarian organization committed to improving the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies, Direct Relief delivers lifesaving medical resources throughout the world to communities in need—without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay. With operations spanning more than 70 countries and all 50 U.S. states, Direct Relief is the only charitable nonprofit to obtain Verified Accredited Wholesale Distributor (VAWD) accreditation by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Among other distinctions, Direct Relief earns a perfect score of 100 from independent evaluator Charity Navigator, was listed among the world’s most innovative nonprofits by Fast Company, and has received the CECP Directors’ Award, the Drucker Prize for Nonprofit Innovation, and the President’s Award from Esri for excellence in GIS mapping. For more information, please visit https://www.DirectRelief.org.

SOURCE Direct Relief

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