Strategies to help Cuba defeat Omicron

Rapid widespread vaccine coverage and an early shift to childhood vaccinations – are key to helping Cuba stem the wave of Omicrons, experts say.

The Omicron mutation appeared in Cuba in December 2021, but did not cause a significant increase in the number of infections like many other countries. To date, the number of new infections in the country has decreased by more than 80%, according to official data. The number of deaths during the Omicron wave was at 10% or less, or always below the previous peak.

Overall, Omicron is thought to be much more infectious than Delta but less likely to cause serious illness. Despite the low rate of critically ill patients, the spike in new cases could still lead to an increase in hospitalizations, but Cuba is bucking this trend. Brazil-based virologist Amilcar Perez Riverol said Omicron had “struggled to hold out” in Cuba, not causing a spike in infections or serious illnesses.

“In Cuba, Omicron doesn’t seem to have as much of an impact as Delta. It doesn’t do as much damage, putting pressure on the health system as it does in other countries,” said Mr. Perez Riverol.

The key is the Covid-19 vaccination strategy, with a particular focus on young children. Cuba has long stood out among the developing world for providing a free health care system that focuses on preventive measures such as vaccination.

In other countries, children are susceptible to the Omicron variant. Partly because the government has not yet approved the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines in people under the age of 5.

Meanwhile, Cuba developed its own Covid-19 vaccine, becoming the first country in the world to mass vaccinate children from 2 years old, from September 2021.

The two vaccines used in this country are Abdala and Soberana 02. Soberana 02 vaccine, developed by Finlay Vaccine Institute, is based on recombinant protein technology, does not require storage in cold storage at deep negative temperatures.

Abdala, developed by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), is a subunit vaccine that contains harmless fragments (proteins) of nCoV instead of the entire pathogen. After being vaccinated, the body recognizes foreign proteins, thereby creating antibodies and white blood cells to protect themselves (T-lymphocytes). These cells remember and fight viruses in the future.

According to official Cuban data, 1.8 million children and adolescents aged 2 to 18 years (or 96% of this age group) received the vaccine without any serious side effects. Eduardo Martinez, President of BioCubaFarma Pharmaceuticals, said the strategy helps Cuba upstream in the Omicron wave.

“In other parts of the world, the virus is circulating more often in children. But that’s not happening in Cuba,” he said.

A girl is vaccinated with the Soberana 02 vaccine in Havana, Cuba, on August 24. Photo: AP

According to domestic and foreign experts, the following factors (related to vaccines) have made Cuba successful in repelling Omiccron, which are: Focusing on vaccinating children, promoting a large-scale vaccination campaign, vaccination program The third dose deploys rapidly and “hybrid immunity” in people infected with nCoV and then vaccinated.

Cuba has so far fully vaccinated 87% of the population, nearly 94% have received at least one dose. This country is in the top three countries with one million or more people being vaccinated the fastest in the world, according to Our World in Data.

The situation of Cuba is in contrast to that of Japan. Delaying the deployment of booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine caused the country to suffer a more severe Omicron outbreak than other developed countries.

Before that, Japan used to be a big question mark for scientists when it was able to keep the number of new infections very low, even without enacting strict restrictions. The country’s vaccination program was initially effective, having one of the highest vaccine coverage rates in the G7 group.

However, when Omiron spread, the Ministry of Health upheld the decision to give the third dose again 8 months after the second dose, while other countries have shortened the gap between the basic vaccination course and the booster dose. down to three or six months.

That hesitation caused Japan to suffer serious Omicron waves. On February 15, the country recorded 236 deaths, the highest daily number since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Thuc Linh (According to Reuters)


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