Cuba Set to Start its Immunization Campaign with Homegrown Vaccines

By Alejandra Garcia on May 3, 2021

photo: BioCubaFarma

At the beginning of the year, Cuba set out to immunize its population in record time with its own vaccines. This month, it will begin to fulfill that dream. The Health Ministry is already arranging the final details in its medical points network to start the first stage of mass immunization with the Abdala and Soberana 02 vaccines in Havana.

About 1.7 million people, including the elderly, doctors, children, and people with underlying diseases, will receive two doses of these vaccines, the first ones produced by a Latin American country to advance to Phase III of clinical trials.

Creating the conditions for Havana’s thousands of local healthcare centers has not been a simple task. There is a battalion of doctors, students of Medicine and other associated disciplines, teachers, and social organizations behind the project. They have watched over the needs of each facility, and they will be the ones to be present during the vaccination process, filling out information about the immunized people, watching over the possible adverse reactions.

Health workers have a huge burden on their shoulders. They have had to fight the pandemic without neglecting other essential health services; they have worked tirelessly to ensure that Cuba today boasts one of the best health indicators in the region; they have created Cuban vaccines, and today they are immersed in managing the vaccination process.

In mid-April, the president of the Provincial Defense Council (CDP) Luis Torres assured that the local authorities were focused on enabling each center with human resources and means, and guaranteeing that there will be no lack of equipment to refrigerate the vaccines.

Each medical point will receive about 80 citizens a day. Cuba is prepared like few nations worldwide to face a massive vaccination process such as the one that is about to take place. Decades ago it eradicated endemic diseases, such as polio, typhoid, yellow fever and malaria. “We have the essentials in place: organization and biotechnological development,” Torres said.

The months ahead are encouraging. While the world scrambles for a few vaccines and death tolls soar daily, Cuba is moving steadily toward immunizing its people. “No Cuban will be left unprotected,” Health Minister Jose Angel Portal has insisted many times over the past year, and so it will be.

Although no country in the world has approved vaccine studies on children and adolescents, Cuba is already in the race to include them in the immunization process with the same priority as the elderly and people with chronic diseases.

Last week, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) announced that the Cuban Abdala vaccine will be tested on children and adolescents as part of a study.

“Currently, we are in the final stages of study design for the pediatric population. We will not achieve herd immunity if we don’t vaccinate children. They get infected too, and they can develop severe symptoms of the disease,” CIGB Clinical Trials Department Chief Verena Muzio said.

“Can Cuba beat COVID with its homegrown vaccines?” was the question the prestigious journal Nature asked the Director-General of the state-owned Finlay Institute of Vaccines in Havana, where one of Cuba’s most advanced immunizers was created; Soberana 02. “The chances are good,” the expert answered

The US scientific journal considers it a miracle that Cuba, which has endured decades of trade blockades imposed by Washington, has developed not one, but five vaccines.

According to Verez, U.S. hostilities have given the Cuban people an independent streak, prompting them to create their own jab of COVID-19 instead of buying one or joining the international COVAX initiative, which aims to distribute the vaccines equitably in all countries.

“We’re a very poor nation. Not one penny of the money used to make medicines or buy food – which are both scarce at the moment – has been diverted for the manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines,” the expert assured.

It’s all been a great individual effort from each of the institutions that are working on this. “We’ve all taken the resources we had for other projects and put them into this. And we’ve had to be creative about it. Our scientists are used to doing a lot with very little,” Verez concluded.