Cuba’s political and economic conditions have long been mysterious due to the limited information the government publishes. While Cubans have access to free health care and education, the country still suffers from poverty. According to the World Bank, there is no official information available regarding how many Cubans live in poverty; however, estimates put the poverty rate anywhere from 5% to 26% and the extreme poverty at around 15% in Cuba’s urban areas. The lack of tourism caused by the pandemic has worsened economic conditions in Cuba, providing an incentive for the nation to create an effective vaccine. Cuba has produced and begun administering a homegrown vaccine, making it one of the smallest countries to do so. Here are four things to know about Cuba’s Abdala vaccine.
4 Things to Know About Cuba’s Abdala Vaccine
- Local authorities say it is 92% effective: According to Cuban health authorities, the Abdala vaccine is roughly 92% effective. Full efficacy requires three doses, according to the BioCubaFarma laboratory. Abdala is only one of five vaccines that Cuba is currently working on. Another is the Soberana 2 vaccine, which shows 62% efficacy after three doses.
- Not internationally approved: PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), a local office of the World Health Organization (WHO) for the Americas, urges Cuba to publish the data for the Abdala vaccine and seek approval from COVAX. In doing so, scientists worldwide can peer-review studies on the vaccine. Cuba has yet to provide data to the WHO or COVAX, sparking international concern about transparency and vaccine efficacy.
- Authorized in Cuba due to rising COVID-19 cases and a recession: COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Cuba, so the Abdala vaccine is already in use despite not being approved by the WHO. Following this, the Cuban government faced criticism from local medical associations and NGOs. Since November 2020, COVID-19 cases have increased due to the rise of tourism in the country. Moreover, as of June 18, Cuba is running low on syringes to administer the vaccine, an especially disastrous shortage because nurses administer the Abdala vaccine in three doses. Furthermore, the country is in a recession and is experiencing shortages of food, medicine and medical supplies.
- Authorized in Venezuela as well: The Abdala vaccine is now being administered in Venezuela, the first country to use the vaccine besides Cuba, despite the WHO and local medical authorities urging Venezuelans against it due to the lack of public information about the vaccine. In June 2021, Venezuela received 30,000 doses of the Abdala vaccine, enough to vaccinate 10,000 people.
Cuba has been producing its own vaccines since the 1980s, including an impressive lung cancer vaccine now in clinical trials in the United States. However, Cuba has yet to submit the Abdala vaccine for peer review by the global scientific community. International health authorities worry about the lack of transparency on the science behind the vaccine, as well as its use in other countries. Through international cooperation, vaccine development and approval can commence faster. Hopefully, global authorities will soon review Cuba’s Abdala vaccine, taking the international community one step further in alleviating the effects of COVID-19.
– Ana Golden