Cuba Enters the Race to Beat COVID-19
COVID-19: The World’s Common Enemy
The novel coronavirus of 2019, known as COVID-19, fiercely swept across the entire world within just a matter of months, causing panic, fear, and uncertainty. For over a year now, COVID-19 has been the daily talk of the world as we have all been fighting this devastating pandemic together. Quarantines, shutdowns, social distancing, and mask mandates have been put in place all around the world in hopes of slowing down the spread of this deadly virus, and these precautions are still in effect in many places today as cases continue to rise and new variants of the virus emerge.
COVID-19 Vaccines Show Promise Against the Coronavirus
The United States’ recent development of their COVID-19 vaccines has shown promise in being effective against the coronavirus. Based on clinical trials, Pfizer’s BioNTech mRNA two-shot COVID-19 vaccine has shown to be 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in those who received both doses of the vaccine and had no prior infection.1 Based on clinical trials, Moderna’s mRNA two-shot COVID-19 vaccine has shown to be 94.1% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in those who received both doses of the vaccine and had no prior infection.2 In clinical trials, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen viral vector COVID-19 vaccine has shown to be 66.3% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in those who received the single-dose vaccine and had no prior infection.3
The United States aren’t the only ones trying to stop COVID-19 for good with their immunizations. Cuba has now joined the race to beat COVID-19 as new cases continue to rise and new variants of the virus emerge.
Can Cuba’s Homegrown Vaccines Help Solve the Worsening COVID-19 Pandemic?
Cuba is working to become the first Latin America country to develop and manufacture its own COVID-19 vaccines.4 Cuba’s development of two new COVID-19 vaccine candidates has been reported in the news a lot during the past few weeks. Cuba is betting that its own vaccines, made by local laboratories, can beat COVID-19 on its own.5 “Vicente Vérez Bencomo, director-general of the state-owned Finlay Institute of Vaccines in Havana, where one of Cuba’s most advanced vaccine candidates was created, thinks the chances are good.”4
Guaranteeing Cuba’s Sovereignty with Its Own COVID-19 Vaccines
Cuba decided to develop and manufacture its own coronavirus vaccines rather than compete with richer countries for vaccines6 to immunize its tiny island of 11 million inhabitants.6 After the COVID-19 pandemic began, “Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel said that guaranteeing the nation’s sovereignty was the main goal of producing a homegrown vaccine,”6 naming the first vaccine candidate Soberana which is Spanish for “sovereign.”6 Abdala, another of Cuba’s vaccine candidates, was named after a poem by independence hero José Martí.6 For Cubans, the names of these homegrown vaccines show that the tiny island of 11 million inhabitants “cannot be broken by a deadly virus.”7
Cuba is Hopeful That Its Homegrown Vaccine Candidates Will Be Effective Against COVID-19
As of today, Cuba has five coronavirus vaccine candidates at various stages of [clinical] trials.6 Just last week, Cuba said that two out of five vaccine candidates have shown to be highly effective against COVID-19.6 The Cuban government-owned pharmaceutical company, BioCubaFarma, said that its three-dose Abdala vaccine has shown to be 92.28% effective in Phase III trials.6 However, The Pan American Health Organization says Cuba has yet to “publish trial data on its Abdala vaccine in peer-reviewed scientific journals so that the global scientific community can evaluate efficacy rates of the COVID-19 [vaccine].”6
Cuba has already been administering its vaccines “even before receiving certification from local authorities”6 after a surge in coronavirus cases led to an emergency response in May.6 According to Díaz-Canel, more than one million Cubans have already been vaccinated with at least one dose of the Abdala or Soberana 02 vaccines.6
Cuba’s Surge in COVID-19 Cases: A Race Against Time
Cases of the coronavirus have been steadily rising since November 2020 after Cuba reopened its borders to tourists.6 The island is now dealing with its worst outbreak for the first time since the pandemic started,8 registering more than 3,000 daily cases. According to the Ministry of Public Health, since the start of the pandemic, Cuba’s total cases have reached 188,000 with 1,270 deaths.6 The government is aiming to have 70% of Cuba’s population fully vaccinated by August 2021.7
Is Cuba’s Abdala COVID-19 Vaccine One of the World’s Most Effective Coronavirus Vaccines?
With its reported 92.28% efficacy against COVID-19 in Phase III clinical trials,6 Cuba’s three-shot Abdala COVID-19 vaccine may become one of the most effective coronavirus vaccines in the world, rivaling Pfizer-BioNTech’s 95% efficacy,1 Moderna’s 94.1% efficacy,2 and Russia’s Sputnik V’s 91.6 efficacy.9
Countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Jamaica, Mexico, and Venezuela are interested in obtaining Cuba’s coronavirus vaccines.7 The reported high rate of efficacy of Cuba’s Abdala vaccine, as well as the hope for efficacy with other Cuban vaccine candidates in various stages of clinical trials, could enable vaccine exports to other countries to help lift Cuba out of its economic crisis.9 In fact, Venezuela received their first batch of Abdala just this week.10 And Caracas signed a deal to buy 12 million doses of Abdala.10 Cuba has plans to manufacture 100 million doses in 2021 for export to more than 30 countries10 around the globe.
Cuba’s COVID-19 National Protocol
Although vaccines are being developed and administered to people all over the world, Cuba still has protocols in place to protect the country and its tourists from COVID-19 infection. In fact, Cuba is facing its worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic.8 As a result, Cuba is under a level 4 travel alert (DO NOT TRAVEL).11
According to the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, all travelers must present a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test administered no more than 72 hours prior to entry into Cuba.11 “All travelers are required to fill out a health declaration card,”11 take a COVID-19 PCR test at the port of entry, and self-isolate until results of the COVID PCR test are received.11 If the results are negative, another PCR test will be administered on the fifth day of isolation; if the second PCR results are negative, the isolation period is over.11 Travelers who test negative upon arrival can self-isolate in a government-run facility or at a hotel participating in the government’s COVID-19 isolation protocol.11 Travelers who test positive will be moved to the National Institute of Tropical Diseases Pedro Kouri.11
All individuals are required to wear a facemask in all enclosed public spaces and comply with sanitization and social distancing requirements.12
Commercial flights are operating but are limited and can be cancelled unexpectedly.11 According to the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, “if U.S. citizens choose to travel to Cuba despite the level 4 alert for Cuba, they should stay in close contact with their travel agents and/or airlines and be prepared to cover their living expenses in Cuba should their return flight(s) be cancelled. The U.S. Embassy is closed for routine services and cannot assist with travel arrangements.”11
Public transportation is operating but is limited11,12 to essential workers.12
Fines for Non-Compliance
If individuals do not comply with Cuban government measures and hygiene protocols, a fine and/or criminal penalty may be issued.11
Cuba’s Hope to End the World’s Common Enemy
As the world continues to fight the common enemy known as COVID-19, Cuba remains hopeful that its homegrown vaccines will officially beat the virus.
- Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Overview and Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated June 24, 2021. Accessed July 2, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/corona
- Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Overview and Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated June 11, 2021. Accessed July 2, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/corona
- Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine Overview and Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated June 23, 2021. Accessed July 2, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/janssen.html.
- Mega E. Can Cuba beat COVID with its homegrown vaccines? Published April 29, 2021. Accessed July 2, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01126-4.
- Wyss J. Cuba Bets Big on Its Own Vaccines as Covid Surges. Bloomberg Businessweek. Published May 25, 2021. Accessed July 3, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/arti
- Brasileiro A. WHO tells CUBA to publish its COVID-19 vaccine data and to seek approval for COVAX. Miami Herald. Published July 1, 2021. Updated July 1, 2021. Accessed July 3, 2021. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article2
- Pieper O. Cuba’s COVID vaccine rivals BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna. Published June 27, 2021. Accessed July 3, 2021. https://www.dw.com/en/cubas-covid-vaccine-rivals-biontech-pfizer-moderna/a-58052365.
- Cuba says Abdala vaccine 92.28% effective against coronavirus. Reuters®. Published June 22, 2021. Accessed July 3, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/cuba-says-abdala-vaccine-9228-effective-against-coronavirus-2021-06-21/.
- Cuba reports a high success rate for its homegrown Abdala vaccine. The New York Times. Accessed July 3, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/22/world/americas/
- Berti L. Venezuela receives first batch of Abdala vaccine from Cuba. Published June 30, 2021. Accessed July 3, 2021. The Brazilian Report. https://brazilian.report/liveblog/2021
- COVID-19 Information. S. Embassy in Cuba. Updated June 16, 2021. Accessed July 3, 2021. https://cu.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/.
- Cuba: COVID-19-related travel protocols and domestic restrictions in force as of May 4 remain largely unchanged /update 21. Published May 4, 2021. https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/474861/cuba-covid-19-related-travel-protocols-and-domestic-restrictions-in-force-as-of-may-4-remain-largely-unchanged-update-21.