Cuba aims to fully immunize 90% of residents against COVID-19 by December

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* Government using three vaccines made in Cuba

* Aims to be the first country to immunize 90% with its own vaccines

By Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta

HAVANA, October 1 (Reuters) – Cuba is stepping up its COVID-19 vaccination program as it aims to fully immunize 90% of its population against the coronavirus by December, an ambitious goal that has yet to be met by even richer countries.

The Health Ministry reported on Thursday that more than 80% of Cuba’s 11.3 million people received at least a first injection of a three-dose vaccination schedule with Cuban vaccines Abdala, Soberana-2 or Soberana. -more.

Nearly 50% were fully vaccinated, he said – well above the global average of 34%, according to the Our World In Data website.

The government said Cuba is on its way to becoming the first country to immunize so many of its population with its own vaccines. He is giving them to children as young as two years old after clinical trials have tested them on children. The United States, by comparison, has yet to clear COVID-19 vaccines for anyone under the age of 12.

Currently, Cuba lags behind China, which has fully immunized around 79% of its population with its own vaccines. But Cuban authorities are vaccinating at a faster rate per capita.

“We will be the first in the world to reach everyone with our own vaccines,” Ileana Morales, director of science and innovation at the Department of Health, told state television.

State developer BioCubaFarma said its vaccines reduce serious illness and death by 90%, even though breakthrough infections are possible.

It has yet to release data to support this claim for the scientific community to review.

The World Health Organization recently launched the process of evaluating the three Cuban vaccines.

“This will be a unique case in the world,” said Jose Moya Medina, representative of the Pan American Health Organization in Cuba. “I hope and believe that Cuba will be an example for all the countries of the world, because only a complete vaccination can stop the pandemic and the possible emergence of more dangerous variants.”

Cuba missed its first vaccination targets – in part because of US sanctions hampering production, the government said – and suffered one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks https://www.reuters.com/ world / americas / coronavirus-surge-pushes- cubas-healthcare-system-brink-2021-08-11 in July and August, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.

But the government said this month that BioCubaFarma has produced enough vaccines to fully immunize the entire population.

PREPARE FOR TOURISM

The cash-strapped country, which boasts pristine beaches and towns with colonial-era architecture, is banking on success to fully open its borders by mid-November for peak tourist season.

Its vaccination campaign could give it an advantage over other countries in the region – one of the most dependent on tourism in the world – which is struggling with an increase in cases https://www.reuters.com/world/americas / caribbean-tourism-recovery- punctured by new coronavirus-2021-09-03 peak in part due to vaccine skepticism and low uptake.

Cuba is already lifting national restrictions https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/cuba-starts-reopen-economy-covid-19-vaccine-campaign-races-ahead-2021-09-24 in heavily vaccinated provinces , including Havana, as it tries to revitalize an economy hard hit by the pandemic, US sanctions and national inefficiencies.

Shortages of food, medicine and just about all consumer goods have caused serious hardship for many, in addition to pandemic lockdowns, layoffs and inflation.

Cases and deaths per 100,000 population in Havana, where about 80% of adults are vaccinated, are less than 20% of what they were two months ago, official data shows, and well below the rest from the country.

In 2020, Cuba’s response to the pandemic surpassed most countries. This year, however, the Delta variant has swept the population and, in some provinces, overwhelmed its much-acclaimed health services. At one point, Cuba had the highest per capita infection rate in the world, with daily cases peaking at nearly 10,000 in July and 98 deaths.

The Department of Health reported a total of 11,863 cases and 146 pandemic deaths as of December 31, 2020. Those numbers have skyrocketed this year to 877,428 cases and 7,436 deaths as of Wednesday.

(Reporting by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta in Havana; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Beijing and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Berkrot)


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