Cuba began mass inoculating its population on Wednesday with two local Covid-19 vaccines that have not yet concluded advanced-stage clinical trials.
Cuba had planned to launch its vaccination campaign in June after receiving authorization from its health regulator. But the health ministry said it would vaccinate 1.7 million residents of Havana, the epicenter of the epidemic, by August, as well as residents of other provinces.
The decision not to wait for the end of clinical trials comes as Cuba grapples with an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases this year. The country’s health ministry reported 1,186 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday. The island has had fewer cases compared to other countries in the region due to strict lockdowns and airport closures for eight consecutive months. But with the reopening of airports, with limited flights, the virus started to increase. In April, it reported 31,346 cases and 229 deaths, up from 12,056 cases and 146 deaths in 2020.
The increase in the number of cases comes against a backdrop of economic decline that has fueled severe shortages of medicine and food. Selling its vaccines to other countries will give the government a much needed source of hard currency.
Cuba is developing five vaccines against the coronavirus, but it is using two that are in phase 3 to start its mass vaccination. One is called Soberana 02, which means ‘sovereignty’, and the other, Abdala, was named after a book by independence hero José Martí. Authorities said the results of the Phase 2 trials were favorable with few side effects.
The Communist government has announced plans to vaccinate the island’s 11 million people by the end of this year. Cuba did not buy vaccines like other Latin American countries did.
For the government, using its own vaccine is more than a public health measure. It is also about demonstrating that it is capable of competing on the world stage with its own vaccine candidates.
China and Russia have also started vaccinating their populations with local vaccines before the end of final trials.
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