Cuba began inoculating children as young as 2 with vaccines it developed that have not been recognized by the World Health Organization, the country announced Monday.
The goal of the campaign is to vaccinate at least 90% of the population, state-run media said. About half of the population has had one shot, and about one-third has had two shots, according to government data.
Cuba has recorded an average of about 7,000 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. With a population of more than 11 million, it has one of the highest coronavirus rates in the world.
The country is eager to get its children back in the classroom. Most Cuban homes do not have internet access, and with its schools closed since March 2020, most children learn by watching television programs.
The island is also eager to jump-start its tourism industry. In 2019, Cuba brought in about $4.1 billion in tourism, according to The Associated Press, or about 10% of its gross domestic product.
Cuba has developed two vaccines. Children ages 2-18 will receive Soberana-2; adults receive Abdala. Both have been approved by local regulators but have not undergone international peer review.
Other countries, including China, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates, have said they will vaccinate younger children, but Cuba is the first to do so.
The director-general of the WHO warned Monday that the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.
"As the experience with this pandemic shows, no country can let down its guard. Complacency can be as dangerous as the virus itself. We must continue to be vigilant," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, speaking from Rome to a Southeast Asia regional WHO meeting in Nepal.
The WHO chief said several recommendations had aimed to provide a better response to combat the pandemic. However, the most effective step, and what he said could make "the biggest difference" in the future, is to find a solution for all countries equitably: "a treaty or other international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response, which will provide a much-needed foundation for global cooperation, setting the rules of the game for a more coherent and coordinated response to future epidemics and pandemics."
"I don't need to tell you that the distribution of vaccines has been terribly unfair," he said. "We're all disappointed by the injustice."
Tedros has recently been asking countries to prioritize vaccination distribution to countries where only 1% or 2% of the population has been inoculated.
"We must never again allow a pandemic on this scale," he added, in his remarks in Nepal. "We must never again allow an injustice on this scale."
Fern Robinson and Sue Jepsen contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.