HAVANA – Cuba will be administering experimental Covid-19 shots to almost the entire population of capital Havana by May as health officials conduct massive intervention and late-stage studies on Tuesday, officials said.
Cuba, which has a long history of developing and exporting vaccines, started late-stage trials this month with two of its five trial shots, Soberana 2 and Abdala, which will be Latin America’s first self-drawn COVID-19 vaccines if they prove successful.
Ileana Morales, director of the Ministry of Health for Science and Technological Innovation, said on a roundtable on state television that authorities would conduct an intervention study on 1.7 million people in Havana by May.
This is on top of what has already been started for 150,000 frontline workers in the city, which has an estimated 2.1 million residents.
Cuba’s capital is at the center of the worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began, registering 292 cases per 100,000 population, compared to a national average of 103.5, Deputy Health Minister Carilda Peña said.
Authorities could seek approval in June for the emergency use of Abdala and Soberana 2, both of which target the novel coronavirus spike protein, Morales said.
“With the emergency use approved … we would be on our way to more massive population vaccination,” Morales said.
This mass vaccination would start with the most vulnerable groups, including those over 60 and health workers. By August, six million people should have received a vaccine, with all 11 million Cubans being vaccinated by the end of the year, Morales said.
Cuba registers 600 to 1,000 new cases a day, well above that or a handful a day for most of last year. Since the pandemic began, the country has reported 68,250 cases and 401 deaths, one of the lowest per capita rates in the world.
Government critics said Cuba should have bought approved vaccines from abroad to launch its vaccination campaign while it completed trials of its home-grown vaccines.
The country developed a large biotech sector in part to become self-sufficient in the face of a crippling US trade embargo. Venezuela and Iran, also facing US sanctions, say they will also test the Cuban Covid-19 vaccines, which have piqued the interest of other countries like Mexico and Jamaica.