By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A shipment of 500,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has finally arrived in Haiti which was donated by the United States. A key part of their vaccine program was provided by the U.S. Southern Command and South Florida’s Food for the Poor.

The vaccine comes months behind other island nations and hopefully just in time as cases have surged. Haiti has 20,000 cases and nearly 500 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic and until recently, not one person vaccinated.

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“A recipe for disaster,” said Ed Raine, CEO of Food for the Poor, “And that’s before you start talking about gangs and the shocking news of the assassination of a president.”

For thirty-five years, Food for the Poor has distributed food and medicines through a network of three warehouses and 14 distribution centers throughout Haiti. They are not in the vaccine distribution business, but they played a big role in making it happen by helping keep the vaccines super cold, which is critical, so they won’t spoil.

“We have a long-standing relationship with Southern Command. They said we have got some freezers, if you can get them there, we’ll help you get that to happen and that’s how it played out.”

Food for the Poor put their logistical steam behind moving Southern Commands refrigerators and freezers.

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The charity arranged for the freezers to be picked up from a warehouse in Doral and shipped to Haiti. Freezers are not an item easily available in Haiti’s rural hospitals and clinics. All of this took place while Food for the Poor continues to distribute food in a country where food is a critical issue and gang violence makes distribution dicey at best.

“Unfortunately, that Salvation Army center is right where the gangs operate and there’s a hospital that closed because of the violence. This is a very treacherous part of Port au Prince to get to,” explained Raine.

They made it with armed security, a little luck, and Food for the Poor’s long-standing reputation with the locals.

Officials worry that the vaccination process will be slow. The 500-thousand vaccines arrived months after the Haitian government announced a health emergency and many more months after counties in the Caribbean had begun their COVID vaccine programs.

“You think about the lag time. We have been talking about vaccines here, six months, shots in the arms. Here it is a tremendous lag time,” he said.

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The first 38 vaccinations in Haiti were administered over the weekend to a mix of first responders and the elderly.