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Cuba Starts Vaccinating Children in Order to Reopen Schools Amid COVID Surge

A nurse takes a girl's blood pressure after giving her a dose of the Cuban-made Soberana vaccine for COVID-19 in Havana, Cuba, Aug. 24, 2021.

Cuban authorities on Friday launched a national campaign to vaccinate children ages 2-18 against COVID-19, a prerequisite set by the communist government for schools to reopen amid a spike in infections.

Children 12 and older will be the first to receive one of the two domestically produced vaccines, Abdala and Soberana, followed by younger kids.

Schools have mostly been closed in Cuba since March 2020, and students have been following lessons on television. With the school year starting Monday, they will continue learning remotely until all eligible children are vaccinated.

Laura Lantigua, 17, got the first of three injections at Saul Delgado high school in the Cuban capital, Havana.

"I always wanted to be vaccinated," Lantigua told AFP. She said that doctors measured her blood pressure and temperature before giving her the shot, then told her to wait for an hour to ensure she didn't have any side effects.

"I felt normal, fine," Lantigua said.

Late Friday, the Medicines Regulatory Agency (Cecmed) announced that it authorized the emergency use of the Soberana 2 vaccine for minors between the ages of 2 and 18.

The composition of Cuban vaccines, which are not recognized by the World Health Organization, is based on a recombinant protein, the same technique used by the U.S. company Novavax.

With the delta variant spreading across the island of 11.2 million, the country's health care system has been pushed to the brink.

Of the 5,300 novel coronavirus deaths recorded since the outbreak started, nearly half were in August, as were almost a third of all reported cases.

The government said it plans to gradually reopen schools for in-person instruction in October after the vaccination campaign among children is completed.