With kids still out of school since March 2020, and one of the highest coronavirus rates worldwide, Cuba announced a bold new undertaking Monday: It has begun to administer a COVID vaccine to children, even toddlers, reports Voice of America. Kids ages 2-18 are receiving Soberana 2 and the booster Soberana Plus, vaccines that—like Abdala, the three-shot adult version—were developed in Cuba and aren't recognized by the World Health Organization. State-run media note that the nation hopes to vaccinate at least 90% of the entire population by December, per the New York Times.
The country of 11 million people has had more than 760,000 COVID cases since the pandemic began, with nearly 6,500 deaths, per Johns Hopkins. A recent average of 70 new infections daily for every 100,000 residents has been recorded, said to be one of the highest rates in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, officials are desperate to both get the disease under control before tourism season starts in November, and to get children back to school after an 18-month absence: Reopenings keep getting postponed, and most kids can't do online learning due to internet costs. Instead, most have had to resort to learning from TV shows.
In clinical trials for adults and some kids, the Soberana vaccines have shown a more than 90% efficacy at protecting against COVID. Finlay Institute, the state-owned vaccine maker, says the vaccine has been shown to be safe for children, and that kids have exhibited an even stronger immune reaction than adults, per Reuters. However, that data hasn't been peer reviewed, and the WHO and other experts say Cuba needs to be more open with its stats. "There's a lot of things going for it, there is a need, and they are using established technology," Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor's College of Medicine, tells the Times. "But I'm concerned about the level of regulatory oversight."
In the US and multiple European countries, only kids 12 and older have been able to get their COVID shots so far, but Cuba isn't the only country that has pulled younger kids into the inoculation circle. Chile has started vaccinating kids 6 and older, while children as young as 3 are getting their jabs in China and the UAE. As for Cuba's goal of vaccinating 90% of its people, 56% have received their first shot so far, with 37% now fully vaccinated. (Read more Cuba stories.)