An article published by Reuters explains how Cuba sits proudly near the top of the COVID-19 vaccination charts thanks to a decades-old bet. Read on and find out more!
Cuba bucks the trend by developing its own vaccine
Although it may sound initially strange that a traditionally poor Caribbean island with a history of communist politics and just over 11 million people, has one of the most successful vaccination programmes on a global scale, but there Cuba sits near the top of the COVID-19 vaccination charts.
Cuba has vaccinated more of its citizens against COVID-19 than most of the world's largest and richest nations, an achievement, as well as a necessity as the highly contagious Omicron variant, begins to circle the globe.
The "Pearl of the Caribbean" has vaccinated over 90% of its population with at least one dose, and 83% of the population is now fully inoculated, placing it second globally behind only the United Arab Emirates among countries of at least 1 million people, according to official statistics compiled by "Our World in Data."
So how did this happen? As the article by Reuters explains, while many of Cuba's Latin America neighbours with emerging economies have plumped for vaccines produced by wealthier nations, Cuba simply chose to develop its own. Well, to be more accurate, five of them.
Cuban scientists leading the way
Cuban scientists have spent much of 2020 and 2021 working on no fewer than five vaccines: Soberana 01, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus, all developed by the Finlay Vaccine Institute; as well as Abdala and Mambisa (the latter a nasal spray), both created by the Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.
Coupled with this, the Cuban health authorities' plan is to have 100% of the island's inhabitants fully vaccinated by the end of this year.
What's more, the Spanish newspaper "El Pais" published an online article describing how Cuba's homegrown vaccines have shown very encouraging efficacy in the fight against COVID-19, with levels similar to those developed by Pfizer or Moderna and higher than those of AstraZeneca.
The Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) reported that the Abdala vaccine has shown an efficacy of 92.28% after applying three doses to a group of more than 48,000 volunteers, while the Soberana 02 vaccine currently stands at 62% after two injections. However, the Finlay Vaccine Institute has stated that that figure should further increase after people have received the third jab.
As a result, the Centre for State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices (CECMED), approved the widespread use on the island, so Abdala and later Sovereign 02 can be applied on a large scale.
Cuba's history in biological, medicinal, and virological research in these fields is a strong guarantee that the Cuban vaccines are of good quality. This is mainly because the Centre for State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices (CECMED) has been working with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) for years, and is considered one of the eight reference centres and the highest level in the region.
Working hard to open the borders
Now in Cuba, infections and deaths from COVID-19 have plunged in recent weeks, falling to less than 1% of their peak on 22nd August, when fewer than half its citizens were vaccinated.
What's more, nearly all of Cuba's children aged 2 to 18 have now been vaccinated with home-grown vaccines.
Schools have reopened and foreign tourists are once again welcome to enjoy the island's numerous charms, coupled with the fact that government ministers officially opened the country's borders on 15th November.
Encouragingly, hospitals that were overflowing in August, appear to be operating at pre-pandemic levels.
According to an American-based university group that works to ensure equitable access for low-income countries:
"It is a truly remarkable accomplishment, given the size of Cuba, and also the U.S. embargo, that restricts their ability to import." - William Moss, director of the Johns Hopkins International Vaccine Access Centre
Cuba, in a "positive position" to face Omicron
Cuba's biotech industry initially began to grow in the 1980s, backed by late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who saw the sector as vital to the communist nation's self-sufficiency in the face of the U.S. embargo.
Now, Cuba is negotiating with both Canada and Italy to produce its vaccines in those countries for export to regions in need, including Africa.
Brazil-based virologist Amilcar Perez Riverol said that although Cuba will now face a new test with Omicron, the outlook is positive.
"The lofty vaccination rates, a large group that gained immunity from prior infection, plus Cuba's early move to fully inoculate its children has put the country in a really positive position in the face of the future evolution of the pandemic." - Amilcar Perez Riverol
So while the globe knuckles down to face the new Omicron variant this Christmas and into the new year, you would certainly bet that this small Caribbean island will help to lead the way, gloves off, as it always has done.