Cuba will begin vaccinating children as young as 2 against the coronavirus this week, making it the only country to date to vaccinate children this young.
The United States and many European countries currently allow vaccination against Covid-19 for children 12 years of age and older. U.S. regulators could approve a vaccine for children 5 to 12 years old later this year.
Chile has started immunizing children 6 years and older. China and the United Arab Emirates are now vaccinating children as young as 3 years old.
Cuba’s health regulator, the State Control Center for Drugs and Medical Devices, approved pediatric vaccination in early September. Last week, the country started vaccinating 13 to 17 year olds.
Coronavirus cases are skyrocketing in Cuba as the Delta variant spreads rapidly across the island. Cuba recently reported an average of 70 new infections per day per 100,000 population, one of the highest rates in the Western Hemisphere.
Cuban children are vaccinated with Soberana 2 and Soberana Plus, two nationally developed vaccines. Clinical trials in adults, and to a lesser extent in children, have shown the combination to be over 90% effective in protecting against the coronavirus, Cuban officials said. But the trial data has not been published in international peer-reviewed journals.
Dr Jarbas Barbosa, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, a division of the World Health Organization, called on Cuba in June to “publish the data transparently.”
“There is a lot to do, there is a need, and they use established technology,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said of the program. Cuban. “But I am concerned about the level of regulatory oversight.”
Cuban scientists said they had submitted articles to peer-reviewed journals and were awaiting publication. They pointed out that Soberana vaccines use technology similar to that already used in Cuban vaccines against other diseases.
“It is not an RNA vaccine, with no history, given to children,” said Dr Vicente Vérez, the main developer of the vaccines.
The first tests in children showed only common side effects and “a high degree of safety, which is the most important,” said Dr. José Moya, representative of the Pan American Health Organization in Cuba.
Schools in Cuba have been closed for most of the pandemic, and the high cost of internet access has made online learning impossible for most children. Authorities and frustrated parents are eager for children to return to school, but the reopening of classrooms has been repeatedly postponed.
So far, 56% of the Cuban population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, and 37% are fully vaccinated. The country’s health ministry aims to immunize more than 90 percent of the population by December.
The pandemic has pushed Cuba’s much-vaunted healthcare system to the breaking point. A shortage of drugs, medical oxygen and coronavirus tests heightened social tensions, sparking anti-government protests in July. Mexico shipped oxygen supplies to Cuba last month, and activists in the United States sent two million needles.
US economic sanctions imposed under the Trump administration slowed down vaccination efforts by making it more complicated and expensive to import materials. Production of Soberana 2 was halted for weeks in the spring when supplies of a vital component dwindled, Dr Vérez said.