Will Cuba’s Covid vaccine success lead the way for low-income countries to fight the pandemic?

Cuba is a tiny island which has reached enormous success with its indigenous vaccine program. Its well entrenched biotech sector has developed five different Covid vaccines. When given as three doses, they have provided more than 90 percent protection against symptomatic Covid, according to a report by CNBC.

Cuba has achieved the second highest percentage of vaccinating its population after the United Arab Emirates and that too with a home-grown vaccine. About 86 percent of its residents have received three doses, according to data from Our World in Data. About 7 percent have been partially vaccinated according to official statistics.

Cuba has vaccinated large swaths of its population including children who are two years and above. This month, the nation is planning to rollout booster shots for all; to curtail the spread of the omicron variant which spreads very quickly across the population.

Cuba is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop its own vaccines. The vaccines developed by the island-nation include Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus. These vaccines are protein vaccines similar to Novovax that has recently been developed by Novartis.

Some of the success of the vaccine program in Cuba can be attributed to its long term health initiatives. Their public health system has several branches in rural areas. Family doctor and nurse clinics quickly delivered vaccines to the island’s population, leading to its success. The people also have faith in their system and there is barely any vaccine hesitancy.

The World Health Organization has not as yet given approval to these vaccines, although the country has engaged with the world body by submitting virtual exchanges of information, so it can get Emergency Use Listing for its vaccines.

The vaccines produced by Cuba are cheap to make, easy to store and can help combat the shortages of vaccines in countries that have a larger number of low incomes groups. They can be manufactured to scale and do not require deep freezing like the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Although the supermarket shelves in Cuba are sometimes empty due to the decade long trade embargo by the U.S., the hearts of the Cubans are large as they are willing to share their vaccine technology. John Kirk, professor emeritus at the Latin American program of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, told CNBC that Cuba wanted to make “an honest profit but not an exorbitant profit as some of the multinationals would make.”

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