Havana, Dec 24 (EFE).- Cuba is approaching the end of 2021 with more than 85 percent of its population inoculated against Covid-19 using vaccines developed and produced on the Communist-ruled island.
Among nations of at least 1 million people, the only one with a higher rate of vaccination is the wealthy United Arab Emirates.
For Cuba, the importance of the achievement goes beyond public health, as bringing the pandemic under control is a prerequisite to the return of foreign visitors, who constitute the largest source of hard currency in a country that has endured nearly 60 years of economic sanctions imposed by the United States.
Though the emergence of the Omicron variant has cast a shadow over international travel, the situation is vastly improved from the summer, when Cuba was contending with an average of more than 9,000 new cases a day and nearly 100 deaths every 24 hours.
The Caribbean nation of 11.2 million people came to have the highest incidence of infection in the Americas, with 1,316 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants.
The surge threatened to overwhelm Cuban hospitals amid shortages of oxygen and basic medical supplies aggravated by the US embargo.
Lacking money to buy vaccines on the market and unwilling to rely on Covax, the mechanism set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that vaccines reach developing countries, the Cuban government turned to the island’s internationally respected biopharmaceutical industry.
In the space of months, Cuban scientists identified five vaccine candidates and on July 9, the CECMED medical safety – designated by the WHO as a Regional Reference Authority for medicines in the Americas – gave its approval to Abdala, developed by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB).
Three doses of Abdala over the course of 28 days demonstrated 92.2 percent efficacy against Covid-19 in clinical trials, according to CECMED.
Six weeks later, CECMED authorities authorized two other formulas created by the Finlay Institute, citing trial data showing that a combination of two doses of Soberana 02 and a single injection of Soberana Plus proved 91.2 effective.
None of Cuba’s vaccines has been certified by the WHO, but that hasn’t stopped Havana from sending doses to allies such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Iran.
With much of the population vaccinated, the government moved last month to re-open the borders, resume in-person schooling and largely eliminate pandemic restrictions in restaurants and on public transport.
The appearance of Omicron – Cuba has five confirmed cases so far – has led authorities to take steps such as imposing a seven-day quarantine on visitors from some countries in Africa, where the new variant was first detected.
And the Cuban pharma sector has said it can quickly fine-tune vaccine formulas to cope with Omicron, while last month saw Cuba begin administering Covid-19 boosters. EFE