Cuba’s Medicines Regulatory Agency (Cecmed) authorised the emergency use of the domestically produced Soberana-2 vaccine for minors between the ages of two and 18.

Cuba has become the first country in the world to authorise the use of coronavirus vaccines for children as young as two years old. The country will be administering its own home-grown vaccines, which have not been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to inoculate children and adolescents aged 2-18 against Covid-19.

Earlier this month, Cuba’s Medicines Regulatory Agency (Cecmed) announced that it authorised the emergency use of the domestically produced Soberana 2 vaccine for minors between the ages of 2 and 18.

Despite grappling with severe shortages in food and medicines, Cuba has focussed on developing its own vaccines, rather than depending on other countries. While local scientists say the Cuban vaccines are safe and effective, there is very little data available to the public to prove their efficacy.

With most other countries adopting a more cautious approach as far as vaccinating children is concerned, some health experts have criticised Cuba for being too hasty in its bid to vaccinate most of its population.

So why is Cuba in such a hurry to vaccinate young children?

According to the Cuban government, the nationwide inoculation drive for children was being sped up with the reopening of schools in mind. The government said it plans to gradually reopen schools for in-person instruction in October after the vaccination campaign among children is completed, Voice of America reported.

Since the pandemic first made its presence felt in the island nation, schools have been functioning virtually. Children have been directed to watch educational programmes on television, as home internet remains out of reach for many.

According to a UNICEF report, released last year, children in Latin American countries have lost four times as many school days as other children around the world.

Anxious to get students back in the classroom, the Cuban government has said schools will reopen for in-person classes once all children are vaccinated.

Initially the focus of Cuba’s vaccination drive was inoculating frontline workers and elderly people in badly affected areas. But after a spike in infections among children following the emergence of the Delta variant, the government started to shift its focus to vaccinating younger children.

“With the rise in positive cases of Covid-19 in children, it’s necessary that the family protects itself more and so we are protecting our children and adolescents,” the island’s chief epidemiologist Dr. Francisco Duran Garcia told CNN.

The Cuban government has also said that it seeks to vaccinate at least 90 per cent of its population before reopening international borders in November.

What do we know about the vaccines being used to inoculate children in Cuba?

So far the country is using two vaccines, Soberana-2 and Abdala, both of which have been approved by local regulators but are yet to be peer reviewed. Both the Soberana 2 and Abdala vaccines are conventional conjugate vaccines, which means that a part of the coronavirus spike protein is fused with a carrier molecule in order to boost both efficacy and stability.

Children and adolescents in the 2-18 age group will receive doses of Soberana-2, while adults will receive Abdala. The vaccination plan for children is the same as that for adults — two doses of Soberana-2 followed by one of Soberana Plus.

Cuba on Thursday said it is seeking World Health Organization (WHO) approval of three Covid-19 vaccines, according to the state-run corporation that produces them, Reuters reported.

Are other countries vaccinating children this young?

While no other country has approved vaccinations for children as young as two, some have started vaccinating slightly older children and adolescents. Countries like the UAE, China, and Chile have authorised some vaccines for younger children. In Chile, children aged 6 and older can get a dose of the Sinovac vaccine. Meanwhile, in China, both the Sinovac and CoronaVac shots can be administered on children as young as 3, CNN reported. The UAE too will soon permit parents to vaccinate toddlers as young as three as part of an optional paediatric vaccination program.

The United States, as well as several European nations such as France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Poland, have already rolled out their vaccination campaigns for young adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15. The UK, meanwhile, has taken a far more cautious approach. Shots for 12-15 year olds were only recommended recently following advice from the country’s top medical officers.

The reason some countries are being criticised for vaccinating children and other low-risk groups is because billions around the world, particularly in low-income countries, have not received even one shot. Earlier this year, when some wealthy countries started vaccinating children, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said they were “doing so at the expense of health workers and high-risk groups in other countries.”

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