Havana, Cuba – There is a health clinic in every corner of Havana, each with a family doctor and a nurse.
In recent weeks, these health workers have been visiting their patients in the Cuban capital since solar – warren-like buildings where entire families live in single rooms – even smarter apartments in ruined art deco buildings, where memories of wealth are still displayed in large windows overlooking the Florida Strait.
They have been telling residents that the coronavirus vaccine has arrived and they have given appointments to strike. This scene has been repeated throughout the city, and as long as there are enough syringes to administer doses, it will soon be repeated across the country.
In the history of the pandemic, Cuba begins this new chapter on a cliffhanger. After spending 2020 largely keeping the virus off its shores, the number of infected patients is rising rapidly, with a record 2,698 new daily cases on Saturday and an average of seven days above 2,000. Cuba faces the largest increase in the Caribbean.
However, last week the country announced that Abdala, one of five vaccines Cuba has created in their own labs – an enormously impressive success for a country of 11 million with catastrophically stretched resources – an efficiency of 92.28 percent. This compares to 95% of Pfizer-BioNTech, 95% of Modern and 76% of AstraZeneca.
Earlier this month he stated another of his vaccines, Sovereign-02, had an efficacy of 62% after two doses. On Thursday, his scientists said a boost would increase this by 85 to 95 percent (Abdala also comes in three shots).
Warnings strongly follow the heels of numbers, which can change in the face of new variants. At the domestic level, vaccines have been tested in a population that has so far not been affected by any severe COVID-19 wave and have not yet been subjected to international control.
“I have no reason to believe that there is fraud or manipulation,” said Amílcar Pérez Riverol, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular biology at São Paulo State University in Brazil and a veteran of Cuban laboratories. “This is biotechnology and, finally, general vaccination will reveal its effectiveness. But like every member of the scientific community, I would like to see the data. “
In Havana, where the population is increasingly frightened by the rising rate of infection, the results of efficacy have caused widespread joy. “After such a hard year of queuing and food shortages, it’s so good to have something to celebrate,” said one woman who left a local medical clinic last week.
The news even rekindled the 9 p.m. applause from Cuban health workers. The Cubans, who venerate his health service, kept their daily applause for months, until they finally ended the day-to-day stress. There is currently a shortage of food and medicine and rampant inflation. And there is also the growing number of infected patients.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Cuban government saw an opportunity to show off its impressive health service, the “advantages” of authoritarian government, and a biotech industry in which Fidel Castro always believed the country could excel. .
Current of Cuba President Miguel Díaz-Canel he asked the country’s laboratories to submit what he called “a sovereign response to COVID-19.”
Only one economic crisis developed at a time, as tourists disappeared and the economy shrank by 11%. The government was struggling to pay its bills internationally, while the United States was trying to make it increasingly difficult for expatriate Cubans to send money home.
In November, pressured authorities opened the borders and allowed people to enter. A day earlier, Cuba had 27 new cases and the US had 159,003. Shortly afterwards, the numbers in Cuba began to rise and, as of Sunday, there were 13,213 active cases in the country (more than throughout 2020) and 1,253 deaths due to the virus.
In May, Marilyn Salazar Martínez, 33, heard that the Soberana-02 vaccine was being tested in her neighborhood in the Havana del Vedado neighborhood. “They were looking for people over 60, but I went to the doctor and they agreed to take me anyway.”
He said he did not know if he would get the vaccine or a placebo. “I wanted the chance to get vaccinated sooner, but also to be part of the search for a solution,” he told Al Jazeera.
Shortly after giving her the second injection, her partner tested positive. “I thought I would be infected too,” he said. After being admitted to the hospital, a doctor came and gave him a PCR test, which was negative.
“Three weeks later, after returning home, they confirmed that I had been given the vaccine,” he said. “There’s no way to know if just luck or the vaccine prevented me from getting COVID, but since we live together, it seems likely it was the vaccine.”
Lack of syringes
According to Cuban authorities, 2.2 million Cubans have received the first doses of vaccines, with just under one million having the three necessary shots. Cuba hopes to fully protect its population this year.
When family after family travels to their clinics or workplaces to get the vaccine, a new problem has emerged: a growing concern about the lack of syringes. Because these vaccines require three doses, Cuba’s need is greater than in other countries.
An international campaign has been launched to supply the island, led by the Cuban diaspora and international solidarity movements. Global Health Partners (GHP), a New York nonprofit group, has launched a campaign to address a deficit of what they say is 20 million syringes. “So far we have bought four million syringes. We look forward to buying an additional two million, “GHP vice president Bob Schwartz told Al Jazeera.
Still, no one cares about Cuba’s ability to put the vaccine in people’s arms. “Even at the beginning, I knew that deployment would not be the problem, because the primary health care system in Cuba is quite efficient,” Pérez Riverol said.
Gregory Biniowsky is a Canadian lawyer and longtime resident who received the Abdala vaccine at a school in Havana’s Old Town Square. “There were six medical staff there. The nurse said there could be flu-like symptoms and some muscle pain, and that’s exactly what I had. “
Biniowsky believes that not only will Cuba become the most vaccinated country in Latin America in the next six months, but there will be no reluctance about vaccination observed in some other countries, including the United States or Russia.
“That’s for three reasons,” he said. “One is the kind of conspiracy movement that exists in other countries just doesn’t exist here. Then there is the strong belief in science. And the last thing is that I don’t think people will be given any choice. “
Cuba has eight doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, three times as many as the United Kingdom or the United States. They know where their patients live.