Cuba has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 26 January 2022

By 26 January 2022, more than 87 per cent of Cuba’s 11.3 million population had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with three doses, and 94 per cent had received at least one. In addition, almost 5 million Cubans (more than 43 per cent) had received a booster.

The Cuban health authorities announced they would accelerate their campaign to administer booster shots to the entire population in January in response to the Omicron variant, which was detected on the island in late November. Daily cases prior to the detection of Omicron were down to less than 100, but in January have averaged over 3,000 a day. However, death rates have fallen dramatically since the vaccine roll-out, averaging less than one a day in December and 2 or 3 a day in January.

In addition to the booster doses, the director of Cuba’s Finlay Institute for Vaccines, Vincente Verez, says that Cuban researchers are developing a variant of the Soberana vaccine that will better protect against the Omicron variant. Cuba’s vaccination rate against COVID-19 is the third-highest in the world among countries with over one million people, behind only the United Arab Emirates and Portugal.

Cuba has achieved a high vaccination rate because it opted to produce its own vaccines, three of which – Soberana 02, Abdala and Soberana Plus – have been in use since May 2021.
The country is now waiting for WHO approval, which would enable Cuban vaccines to be produced internationally. The WHO not only looks at vaccine efficacy but also production facilities. The cost of bringing Cuban manufacturing facilities to a first-world standard has slowed this process down for Cuba, however it aims to present all relevant data to the WHO by the end of March.

Some countries have already authorised Cuban vaccines for domestic use. Mexico’s health safety council has said that Abdala is safe and effective for emergency use. Vietnam, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Iran have also authorised Cuban vaccines.

John Kirk, professor emeritus at the Latin America programme of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, told CNBC that unlike other countries or pharmaceutical giants, Cuba had offered to engage in the transfer of technology, which would have “enormous significance” for low-income countries. Vaccination rates in Africa are currently 10 per cent, while the European Union has a rate of 70 per cent.

“One thing that is important to bear in mind is that the vaccines don’t require the ultra-low temperatures which Pfizer and Moderna need and there are places, in Africa in particular, where you don’t have the ability to store these global-north vaccines,” Kirk said.

“The objective of Cuba is not to make a fast buck, unlike the multinational drug corporations, but rather to keep the planet healthy. So yes, making an honest profit but not an exorbitant profit as some of the multinationals would make,” he added.

In November, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez announced that Cuba’s government had rejected an offer of one million COVID-19 vaccine doses from the United States. Rodríguez said that the offer was “opportunistic” and was rejected due to “strict and interventionist requirements, such as the obligation to carry out clinical studies in Cuba with these vaccines.” He also questioned the late timing of the offer, coming in November when more than 70 per cent of the population was already fully vaccinated, more than in the US.

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