Nurse-COVID-Puerto RIco Hilda Alemán vaccinated Jahaira Alicea, a respiratory therapist who treated the first COVID-19 patients in Puerto Rico.
Courtesy of Ashford Presbyterian Hospital

Hilda Alemán is the first health practitioner to give an anti-COVID-19 shot on the island, and the fourth person to receive the much-anticipated vaccine.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Nurse Hilda Alemán is at the forefront of the local anti-COVID vaccination crusade.

At 6 a.m., Alemán vaccinated Jahaira Alicea, a respiratory therapist who treated the first COVID-19 patients in Puerto Rico. Alicea became the first person to receive the Pfizer vaccine at the Ashford Presbyterian Community Hospital in Condado.

“For me it was twice as exciting because in addition to deploying the long-awaited vaccine, I was also vaccinating my co-worker,” Alemán told The Americano. “The two of us have been battling this virus which has disrupted everyone’s lives.”

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On March 8, Alicea took care of the Italian tourist couple who were transferred to the hospital’s emergency room from the cruise ship Costa Luminosa.

On that day, it just so happened that Alicea, a supervisor in the hospital’s respiratory department, had come to do office work. During her shift, a nurse left for lunch, leaving her to cover the emergency room.

It was then that she assisted the couple, who were later identified as the first confirmed cases of COVID on the island. The woman died later on from the virus.

“She arrived with her husband in an ambulance and was wearing a mask,” Alicea told local Puerto Rico news outlets this morning. “The doctor prescribed some therapies—we didn’t know she had COVID.” 

Obstetrician and gynecologist Manuel Velilla, one of the oldest healthcare providers at the hospital, was the second person to get the shot, while surgeon Raúl Márquez was the third.

Alemán was next in line to receive the vaccine.

“My co-worker Melissa Valentín vaccinated me,” Alemán said. “She did so at around 6:30 in the morning, and I felt relaxed. I have been administering vaccines all day and feel super good.” 

Alemán has 37 years of experience and has worked 35 of those at the Ashford Hospital. As a nurse epidemiologist she is used to working with infectious diseases and is in charge of education, preparation, research, and contact tracing at the hospital. Testing the hospital staff to keep them free of COVID is part of her responsibilities.

“Those who lost the battle have left an impression on me,” Alemán said. “It touches us deeply because we are trained to save lives. When these things happen, they touch the most profound part of your being.”

The hospital’s goal for today was to vaccinate 100 people. Alemán will continue vaccinating all week.

Early Tuesday morning, the Puerto Rico National Guard began to distribute the 16,575 vaccines that arrived on the island on Monday from Memphis, Tennessee.

The soldiers departed from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, taking 23 routes to deliver vaccines to 64 hospitals on the island.

The local government will be in charge of coordinating different sectors of the population. Hospital personnel will receive the vaccine first, followed by first responders such as police, military personnel, and firefighters. The third phase of vaccination will be for people over 65 years of age, and people over 50 with chronic diseases. Finally, the vaccine will be administered to the rest of the population.