Cuba's mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 to start in Havana with homegrown vaccines

A nurse shows a dose of the Soberana-02 COVID-19 vaccine to be used in a volunteer as part of Phase III trials of the experimental Cuban vaccine candidate in Havana, Cuba, March 31, 2021. (Photo: Agencies)

HAVANA - Nearly 1.7 million people from the Cuban capital Havana will receive doses of the homegrown COVID-19 vaccine candidates as part of an intervention study starting on Wednesday, according to local newspaper Tribuna de La Habana.

Clara Zamora, a resident of Havana's Camilo Cienfuegos district, is looking forward to receiving the first dose of Abdala COVID-19 vaccine candidate in the coming days.

"I very much trust in the expertise of Cuban scientists and doctors," the 72-year-old said. "I have no doubt the mass vaccination rollout will help the island contain the spread of the virus."

The government confirmed on Sunday that mass vaccinations will begin Wednesday in seven municipalities of Havana and will continue in the second half of May in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Santiago de Cuba, and the Special Municipality of Isla de la Juventud.

It came as the island nation registered on Sunday 1,069 new COVID-19 infections and ten more deaths related to the virus in the past 24 hours, with the totals standing at 115,981 and 732, respectively.

Francisco Duran, national director of hygiene and epidemiology at the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, is confident that the mass vaccination rollout will help decrease COVID-19 infection rates across the country.

"We will be able to go through this difficult situation working together, with the participation of people and the mass vaccination drive," he said, adding new COVID-19 variants circulating on the island are deadlier and more contagious.

Currently, Phase III clinical trials for Cuban COVID-19 vaccine candidates Soberana 02 and Abdala are underway, as well as intervention studies involving frontline workers from Havana and the eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and Granma.

In the coming weeks, COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers in the Caribbean nation could also apply for emergency use authorization from Cuba's Center for State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices, according to local authorities.

During a televised address, Cuban Minister of Public Health Jose Angel Portal Miranda said that the island expects to immunize more than 70 percent of its population against COVID-19 by August.

"The key to success is to prevent the population from getting sick. Prevention is the way; we must keep on doing our best," he said.

Cuba, home to over 11 million people, has adopted partial lockdown measures to confront its sharpest rise in new COVID-19 infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Amid the tightened US embargo against the island, Cuba is now working on the development of five COVID-19 vaccine candidates, namely Soberana 01, Soberana 02, Soberana Plus, Mambisa and Abdala.

Local biopharmaceutical authorities expect to immunize the country's entire population with domestically manufactured COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the year.