Cuba seeks WHO approval of COVID-19 vaccines as toddlers next for shot
HAVANA, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Cuba on Thursday will seek World Health Organization (WHO) approval of three COVID-19 vaccines, according to the state-run corporation that produces them, as it begins administering shots en masse to toddlers.
Rolando Perez Rodriguez, director of research and development at BioCubaFarma, made the announcement during a discussion broadcast by state media on Tuesday evening on a vaccination campaign that aims to immunize more than 90% of the population by November.
"There have already been some exchanges in Havana and at the office in Geneva," Perez said. "Now begins a procedure and exchange to evaluate the documentation delivered."
The Communist-run Caribbean island is vaccinating its population at one of the fastest rates in the world with local drugs Abdala, Soberana-2 and Soberana Plus, all authorized for emergency use by local regulators amid a Delta variant-driven surge that has strained its health system.
Cuba is the only country in the Caribbean to have developed its own vaccine against the virus. More than 65% of Cubans have currently received at least one shot and 37% have been fully vaccinated with three shots, according to the health ministry.
The country says its vaccines have an efficacy above 90% and initial results are similar to those of other top vaccines significantly reducing transmission, critical illness and death, though critics have complained those results have yet to be peer reviewed.
The vaccination campaign includes children as young as two with toddlers across the country scheduled to get the first of two shots starting on Thursday, Public Health Ministry official Doctor Maria Elena Soto said during the same broadcast, becoming the first in the world under six years of age to be immunized en masse.
The vaccines are based on traditional technology used to vaccinate young children for decades, versus new genetically engineered ones, giving them a proven security "pedigree" in addition to clinical trials, the Cuban company and local health officials said.
Over the past week, Cuba averaged around 7,500 cases per day and nearly 80 deaths, down significantly from a month ago but still one of the highest rates in the world in terms of cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Around 20% of cases were recorded in people under 20 years of age.
The country is suffering shortages of everything from food and medicine to parts and inputs for power plants and agriculture, due to closure of the tourism industry, tough U.S. sanctions and its own inefficiencies.
It hopes to tame the disease in time for the tourism season, which begins in November, and to export the vaccines.
Soberana-2 is already being produced in Iran, and Vietnam says it may purchase and produce Abdala.
Mexico, which will host Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel later this week and a regional summit at the weekend focused on the pandemic, has said it wants to produce the drugs.
Perez said during Tuesday evening's broadcast that Cuba would export the vaccines after meeting local needs and that WHO approval would "help open up more opportunities on the international market."
Cuba says it has the capacity to produce 100 million vaccines annually, of which at least 30 million would be needed at home.
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