In September, Cuba became the first country in the world to begin mass vaccination of children as young as 2 against Covid-19.
Although coronavirus vaccines are not mandatory, parents and children fill clinics, hospitals and even converted schools to get their children vaccinated.
“I’m relieved,” Laura Tijeras said just minutes after her 4-year-old daughter, Anisol, received the first dose of Cuban vaccine Soberana, or Sovereign. “A lot of people are still getting sick and with the vaccine. We are more protected.”
In a single day at a Havana clinic, where CNN and other media were asked to film the vaccinations, more than 230 children aged 3 to 5 were vaccinated, the administrator said. clinical.
To put the kids at ease, the doctors and nurses wore Mickey Mouse ears over their uniforms and brought in a clown with a speaker system to play at full volume.
Like vaccinated adults, children in Cuba will need three injections before they are considered fully vaccinated.
With the arrival of the Delta variant in Cuba, cases in children have skyrocketed.
“The number of new coronavirus infections that have occurred in Cuba in recent months among the pediatric population is alarming,” Cuban Health Minister Jose Portal Miranda wrote in an article posted on the Cubadebate government website in September.
“Many of the pediatric patients reported in severe or critical condition are newborns,” he wrote.
So far, during the pandemic, at least 117,500 minors have been diagnosed with Covid in Cuba, according to official statistics. The government did not say how many children died in Cuba during the pandemic. But since the beginning of August, 10 minors, children and infants have been listed as dead during daily press briefings given by the Ministry of Health.
The spike in cases led Cuban authorities to abandon plans to reopen schools in early September. As home internet access remains an expensive luxury for most Cubans, children are taught by watching an educational channel on television. Many Cuban parents complain that their children are left behind at school, and with parks, cinemas and beaches closed, there is nowhere to take them.
In September, officials announced they would begin immunizing children as part of a plan to immunize more than 90 percent of the island and reopen international borders by mid-November. Officials said they were unlikely to be able to restart schools before that date.
“It is not a condition to attend our educational establishments when the classes renew to be vaccinated”, declared the Deputy Minister of Education Eugenio González Pérez during the television program Mesa Redonda. “But we call on the Cuban family to vaccinate their children. We have a 100% Cuban vaccine.”
So far, Cuba’s drug regulator has approved the emergency use of three local vaccines that Cuban scientists say are very effective in preventing serious illness and death from the coronavirus.
While critics complained about the Cuban government’s excessive secrecy regarding their program, last week Cuban scientists said they had started sharing data with the World Health Organization to gain approval for their program. vaccines.
Cuban state-run vaccine producers initially expected to produce enough doses for the island’s population of 11.2 million by September, but later said the shortages – qu ‘they blamed the US trade embargo – had prevented them from achieving that goal.
In August, as the pandemic spiraled out of control in several provinces, Cuba began using China’s Sinopharm vaccine for the first time, even though it is less effective than the immune response Cuban scientists produce according to their own vaccines.
Some critics have said that if there is a vaccine shortage, Cuba should prioritize vaccinating at-risk populations like the elderly and people with pre-existing illnesses before children.
But Cuban doctors leading the vaccination campaign on young children said the increased risks children face must be addressed immediately.
“It’s more difficult, but it’s rewarding to vaccinate a child,” said Dr Auroly Otaño Orteaga. “You put the vaccine on and you know they’re going to be immune and won’t have serious complications or even die from Covid.”