Photo: Vaccination of youth in Cuba. Credit — CubaDebate.cu
In the battle against COVID-19, Cuba has been a country of firsts. It is the only country in all Latin America to produce its own vaccines.
Cuba has sent more than 5,000 doctors to help treat COVID patients in 57 brigades to 40 countries around the world since the pandemic began. No other country has come close.
Now, in a major new development, babies and children two years old and up will be massively vaccinated starting in 10 days. Cuba is the first country in the world to vaccinate babies and children under 12.
On Friday, Sept. 3, Cuba’s Center for State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices (CECMED) announced emergency approval for the mass vaccination of two-year-olds and children up to age 11 using the Soberana 02 vaccine. Soberana was developed and is produced by the famous Finlay Vaccine Institute. Pediatric innoculations will begin September 15. Trials showed the vaccine to be safe and effective in that age range. Youths 12 to 18 years will receive Soberana starting September 5.
By November 15 all schoolchildren under 18 will return to their classrooms fully vaccinated, and pre-school children as well. For now students will start their fall lessons on Sept. 6 by television, as has been the practice since the pandemic began.
Dr. Olga Lidia Jacobo Casanueva, CECMED Director, told Cuban TV, “It is great news for the Cuban people, for the Cuban family which has waited to be able to vaccinate their children. It is a real achievement for Cuban science and represents an historic moment in our country.”
Since late June, Cuba has experienced a dramatic increase in positive COVID cases amid the ever-harsher U.S. economic blockade and the shutdown of tourism due to the pandemic. From roughly 1,100 average new cases in early June, the figure skyrocketed to an average of 9,504 new positive cases exactly one month ago. The last four days’ average ending Sept. 4 was 6,899.
Despite the many challenges of increased cases and material shortages, Cuba’s socialist government and health institutions are soldiering through with the national plan and its three most effective vaccine lines to cover the whole population.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced Aug. 31 — in a special meeting of scientists and health professionals — that by November, 92.6% of Cuba’s entire population will be fully vaccinated with the three-shot process.
The bold project of universal infant, child and adult vaccination is possible because of the country’s highly organized vaccination system that has been in place for decades. Cuban scientists, fully supported by a government that places its trust in their expertise and dedication, work for the common good — free of a profit motive.
Plus, Cuban society has not suffered the polarization whipped up by right-wing politicians and false media in the United States that have actively opposed mask mandates and vaccinations. Millions in the United States have fallen victim to the anti-science hysteria, failing to vaccinate. The U.S. COVID cases and deaths are in the second-highest wave since April 2020 and rising.
The pandemic has been severe for Cuba due to the longstanding blockade further hardened under Trump. The tourism industry — a major source of income for the country and workers — has virtually shut down due to the virus.
Up to now, all vaccines worldwide have been approved for emergency use by corresponding health institutions, due to their highly effective results and the need to take immediate action given the severity of the pandemic.
The pediatric trials in Cuba began June 14 this year. The first stage was 25 adolescent volunteers, 12 to 18 years old, then a larger group of 350. In early July almost 600 babies and children under 12 took part in clinical trials. The children’s vaccine trial was named Ismaelillo, after poetry written by Cuba’s national hero José Martí to his son.
No children are exempt from the highly contagious delta variant, now dominant around the world. The urgency for pediatric vaccination everywhere is greater than ever as the school year begins anew this week.
The struggle against COVID is far from over. But Cuba’s latest achievement is a shining example of the Cuban people and their revolution facing adversity with determination to overcome.