Cuba begins vaccinating children as young as two against COVID-19

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Cuba, using its homegrown vaccines, is one of the first nations to begin vaccinating very young children.

Sitting on her mother’s lap, two-year-old Lucia looked at the illustrations in her book while around her several children watched the doctors in white coats and nurses with thermometers in amazement.

In an adjoining room, Danielito, also two, sniffled while getting a shot as a clown tried to distract him.

On Thursday Cuba began a massive vaccination campaign for children between the ages of two and 10, becoming one of the first nations to do so. Health officials in the country say Cuba’s homegrown vaccines have been found safe for young children.

“Our country would not put [infants] even at a minimal risk if the vaccines were not proven save and highly effective when put into children,” Aurolis Otano, director of the Vedado Polyclinic University, told The Associated Press news agency in a vaccination room.

Otano said the circulation of the Delta variant led to an increase in infections among the youngest, so Cuba’s scientific community decided to “take the vaccine to clinical trial” and it was approved for children.

Polyclinic expects to vaccinate about 300 children between two and five. Those between five and 10 are receiving their first shot at their schools.

Lucia’s mother, Denisse Gonzalez, watched the children in the vaccination room while waiting the hour that her daughter had to be under observation after being vaccinated.

“I was very doubtful and worried at first, really, but I informed myself,” she said.

“Our children’s health is first and foremost, which is the main thing and [contagion] is a risk because young children are always playing on the floor,” added Gonzalez, a 36-year-old engineer.

In previous weeks, the vaccination of Cubans between 11 and 18 began. The plan includes two doses of Soberana 02 vaccine and one of Soberana Plus, as was done with adults.

Children also face ‘significant risks’

Cuba faces a persistent COVID-19 outbreak that almost collapsed its healthcare system.

Provinces such as Matanzas, Ciego de Avila and Cienfuegos received support from doctors from other parts of the country and even from international donors.

In addition to the Soberanas, Cuba has developed another national vaccine, Abdala. According to Cuba’s Ministry of Health, 776,125 positive cases of COVID-19 have been registered with 6,601 deaths.

In June, Chinese regulators approved the use of the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines for children ages three to 17. The United States and many European countries currently allow COVID-19 vaccinations for children 12 and older.

Parents wait to have their children vaccinated with the Soberana-02 COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Havana, Cuba [File: Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo]

Children have largely escaped the worst of the pandemic and show less severe symptoms when they contract the virus. But experts say children can pass the virus on to others and suffer negative consequences.

“As more adults receive their COVID-19 vaccines, children, who are not yet eligible for vaccines in most countries, account for a higher percentage of hospitalisations and even deaths,” said Carissa F Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization.

“We must be clear: children and young people also face significant risks.”

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