As of October 2021, Cuba has vaccinated 55.1% of its citizens against COVID-19. This can be compared to the United States’ 56.3%, Brazil’s 44.2%, and India’s 17.9%. However, they have been using their home-grown vaccines, despite lacking approval from the WHO. Cuba is releasing very little information regarding the ingredients in the vaccine and hoping as many people get vaccinated as quickly as possible. In my opinion, this raises some ethical questions and concerns that should be considered.
Cuba began the process of creating its own vaccines after refusing to negotiate with other countries. They had astoundingly low case numbers throughout most of the pandemic, only beginning to experience a heavy increase in infections once they reopened their borders in November of 2020. The Delta variant worsened the situation even more as children became more vulnerable and the country had to import supplies such as oxygen, syringes, and other general medical supplies. What was Cuba’s response to this? Create its own vaccines to expedite the process and ensure a safe procedure, as everything would be entirely Cuban produced. While I understand Cuba's mission, just because something is produced in your home country, that does not necessarily make it safe.
The first vaccine against COVID-19 that Cuba produced was the Abdala vaccine. The Center for State Control of Medicines, Equipment, and Medical Devices approved of the vaccine stating that it is 92% effective after three doses. Vietnam recently approved the Abdala vaccine and will begin supplying it to its citizens by the end of the year.
The other vaccine Cuba has been using is Soberana 2, which was created by the Finlay Institute in partnership with the Centre for Molecular Immunology and the National Biopreparations Centre. The vaccine is said to be 91.2% effective against COVID-19 after two injections of Soberana 2 and one booster shot of Soberana Plus.
Cuba as a whole has been able to create five vaccines because its biotechnology industry is state-owned. The lack of competition amongst the sector is believed to be the reason for this feat, although only two of the vaccines, Soberana 2 and Abdala, have made it to Phase III. When comparing this to America’s three privately created vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna, one wonders which is the better method. More information has been released regarding the American vaccines, and the WHO approved all of them before citizens were able to receive injections. I, for one, would rather wear a mask for a few months longer than be injected with something that has not been approved by anyone but the group that made it.
Speaking of rushing, Cuba has begun vaccinating children as young as two years old. While this may seem young compared to the United States, which only vaccinates children as old as twelve, it is not as uncommon as it may seem. Chile vaccinates children as young as six years old, and China and the United Arab Emirates vaccinate children as young as three. However, the United Arab Emirates uses Sinopharm, which has been approved for emergency use by the WHO. Similarly, China’s Sinovac-CoronaVac has also been approved. Schools in Cuba have been closed since the start of the pandemic. Parents argue that their children’s education is more important than waiting to hear all of the information surrounding the vaccines. If you think about it, this is fairly ironic.
It seems that Cuba may be rushing in an effort to keep up its image of being the country with the best healthcare. To be fair, they are a country with one of the highest ratios of doctors to patients, but very little information is being released to both its citizens and to foreigners, causing some speculation as to what, if anything, they are hiding. While Abdala and Soberna 2 may be the safest vaccines in the world, there is not enough information to know that for sure. In my opinion, the more information there is, the better. While I do not want to completely disregard Cuba’s efforts, as it is impressive how quickly they created vaccines, I am a bit skeptical and hope for more information to be released soon.