Cuba, which says it has developed five candidate vaccines against COVID-19 and vaccinated around 2 million people on the island of 11 million, apparently did not plan a crucial part of its vaccination campaign: syringes.
As COVID-19 cases have increased in recent weeks, the lack of syringes looms as a major challenge for the island, where a crushing recession has triggered a food crisis and shortages of medicines and basic necessities. Trump-era sanctions have made it harder for Cuba to purchase syringes from major manufacturers, which are already inundated with orders from larger, richer countries.
Worse yet, some Cuban vaccines require three doses, which means the Caribbean nation needs more syringes per capita than most countries using the dual injections of Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Moderna and Janssen’s single dose jab. Cuba aims to vaccinate all of Havana’s 2 million people by September and a total of around 10 million people by the end of the year.
When it became clear that the island would not fend for itself, aid organizations in the United States and Europe stepped in. They have launched campaigns to collect donations to buy syringes and have them shipped to the island to help reduce a deficit of 25 million syringes.
The response in just over a month has been “phenomenal,” according to Global Health Partners, a New York-based NGO that runs the Saving Lives campaign. Others in Spain, Italy and Latin American countries like Argentina and Honduras have also contributed. Cubans living abroad have launched campaigns in cities around the world, and in Miami, a caravan against the U.S. embargo last month also collected local donations.
“I have been leading medical aid campaigns to help Cuba for over 20 years and have never seen anything like it,” said Executive Director Bob Schwartz. He said the organization was initially aiming for enough money to buy 3 million syringes, but has gained such overwhelming support – and $ 400,000 in donations – that it has purchased 4 million and is working to make it happen. buy another 2 million. He hopes to have them on the ground in Cuba by mid-July. Global Health Partners has a license from the US Department of Commerce to ship medical supplies to Cuba.
It is not known how many syringes Cuba has or needs, but official state media have made public the donations the island has received from countries like France and Argentina.
The island managed to weather the first waves of the coronavirus pandemic last year thanks to strict quarantine and a public health system that, although hit by severe shortages in recent years, remains stronger than its counterparts many of its Caribbean neighbors. But a new wave after Cuba reopened its borders to tourism in November placed the island near the top of the COVID-19 rankings in the region, sparking calls for the government to start mass vaccinations. Health officials began administering the injections of Soberana and Abdala last month even before they were approved by the Cuban pharmaceutical authority.
COVID-19 cases, which totaled just over 12,200 over the past year, have surpassed 149,000 so far this year. Since the start of the pandemic, Cuba has recorded around 162,000 cases and 1,118 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The island hit a record 1,537 new cases on Tuesday before the number dropped slightly to 1,403 on Wednesday.
Cuban government officials have come under fire for failing to purchase vaccines to start protecting his people earlier, as he worked to develop his own vaccines. The socialist regime has chosen to focus on a local solution that is presumably cheaper and can ensure a supply of life-saving gunfire even amid the challenges created by the long-standing US embargo. Cuba’s long tradition of vaccine production, a strong biotech industry and a critical mass of scientists have enabled it to become the first country in Latin America to produce a vaccine against COVID.
The island has five vaccines in various stages of clinical trials and aims to produce around 100 million doses this year for export to countries in Latin America and Africa. He even pointed out the possibility of offering vaccines to tourists. And production can continue over the next few years to meet a likely need for recalls.
But for now, he needs syringes for his own people. Vaccinations in Havana have slowed transmission there, with infection rates falling to around 370 from a peak of around 800 a day a month ago, according to government data. The improvement is in part due to vaccination efforts, Health Ministry director of epidemiology Francisco Durán García said in a daily televised update on Wednesday.
“We have to keep moving forward as fast as possible in order to see what effect [the vaccine] aura, as well as preventive measures that the population is already familiar with, ”he said.
A group in Miami wants the Cuban-American community to help help families on the island get vaccinated. The Caravan for the Cuban Family and the Lifting of the Cuban Blockade, which has drawn dozens of supporters in cars and bicycles to various locations in Miami on the last Sunday of every month since July of last year, is spreading the word about the way people can donate to the syringe efforts, said Carlos Lasso, one of the organizers.
“A lot of people in Miami have family in Cuba, and I’m sure they want their families to be protected from COVID-19; joining the syringe campaign is a huge way to help them, ”said Lasso.