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January 14, 2022

Cuba has vaccinated a greater percentage of its population against Covid-19 than almost all of the world’s largest and richest nations. In fact, only the oil-rich United Arab Emirates boasts a stronger vaccination record.

The tiny Communist-run Caribbean island has achieved this milestone by producing its own Covid vaccine, even as it struggles to keep supermarket shelves stocked amid a decades-old U.S. trade embargo.

“It is an incredible feat,” Helen Yaffe, a Cuba expert and lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, commented.

“Those of us who have studied biotech aren’t surprised in that sense, because it has not just come out of the blue. It is the product of a conscious government policy of state investment in the sector, in both public health and in medical science.”

To date, around 86% of the Cuban population has been fully vaccinated against Covid with three doses, and another 7% have been partly inoculated against the disease, according to official statistics compiled by Our World in Data.

These figures include children from the age of two, who began receiving the vaccine several months ago. The country’s health authorities are rolling out booster shots to the entire population this month in a bid to limit the spread of the highly transmissible omicron Covid variant.

I think it is clear that many countries and populations in the global south see the Cuban vaccine as their best hope for getting vaccinated by 2025, says Helen Yaffe

The country of roughly 11 million remains the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean to have produced a homegrown shot for Covid. “Just the sheer audacity of this tiny little country to produce its own vaccines and vaccinating 90% of its population is an extraordinary thing,” John Kirk, professor emeritus at the Latin America program of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, commented.



Five different Covid vaccines, still counting
Cuba’s prestigious biotech sector has developed five different Covid vaccines, including Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus — all of which Cuba says provide upwards of 90% protection against symptomatic Covid when three doses are administered.

Cuba’s vaccine clinical trial data has yet to undergo international scientific peer review, although the country has engaged in two virtual exchanges of information with the World Health Organization to initiate the Emergency Use Listing process for its vaccines.

Unlike U.S. pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna, which use mRNA technology, all of Cuba’s vaccines are subunit protein vaccines — like the Novavax vaccine. Crucially for low-income countries, they are cheap to produce, can be manufactured at scale and do not require deep freezing.



Hope for the “global south,”
It has prompted international health officials to tout the shots as a potential source of hope for the “global south,” particularly as low vaccination rates persist. For instance, while around 70% of people in the European Union have been fully vaccinated, less than 10% of the African population have been fully vaccinated.