Cuba announced on Sept. 13 that it will begin administering its own COVID-19 vaccinations to children as young as two, despite the vaccines having not yet been recognized by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The announcement was made through Cuba’s state-run media, and the country aims to inoculate at least 90 percent of the population, according to Voice of America.
Around 38.7 percent of Cuba’s population is fully vaccinated, about 4.39 million people. Over 64 percent of the population has received at least one vaccination shot, according to government data.
However, the communist country has seen an increase in the number of coronavirus infections in recent months, and has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the world.
It recorded a record-high 268,259 new cases and 2,545 deaths in August alone, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre, which is tracking the pandemic.
“The number of coronavirus infections happening in Cuba in recent months in the pediatric population is alarming,” said Health Minister José Angel Portal Miranda in an op-ed published in the official government news site Cubadebate earlier this month. “Extremely worrying is the daily increase in the number of infants that tested positive for COVID-19.”
According to the health minister, there have been 117,500 minors diagnosed with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. More than 7,660 of those infants were under one year of age.
The health minister noted that throughout 2020, 58 children under the age of one were reportedly infected with COVID-19 but that this figure rose to 84 between Feb. 1 and 15, 2021.
He added that studies are still being conducted to determine how the virus impacts minors, but that research has shown that children under one may have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with the virus compared to older children.
The country said initial results showed the homegrown vaccines, Abdala and Soberana-2, are similar to some of the world’s top vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna in reducing transmission rates, critical illness, and death.
However, while both have been approved by local regulators relying on limited clinical data on the efficacy which was tested on 350 minors between the ages of 3 and 18, they have not yet undergone international peer-review, The Chronicle reports.
Despite this, Cuba’s government is eager to get children back to school, as most Cuban homes do not have internet access and children have relied on learning through television programs since March 2020 when schools were closed, VOA notes.
Children ages 2–18 will receive the Soberana-2 vaccine while adults will receive Abdala. Both vaccinations require two shots and a third booster shot.
“We have children dying, getting severe disease,” said Dr. Vicente Verez Bencomo, director of the Finlay Institute, in a video conference organized by Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. “We are vaccinating children so we are moving closer to the point there is community immunity established.”