The Cuban Minister of Health Corrects his President: Vaccination Is Not Sufficient

José Ángel Portal Miranda, Minister of Public Health, and Miguel Díaz-Canel in a teleconference with international Cuban Brigades (Estudios Revolución)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 25 January 2022 — Miguel Díaz-Canel got cold water poured on him. His Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, has come out to correct him just 24 hours after the leader said proudly in Cienfuegos that Omicron has not “behaved in Cuba as in the rest of the world” thanks to the high rate of vaccination. The top health official on the island has written an opinion column published in the pro-government media in which he states that it is a mistake to believe that vaccination will be enough to eradicate the pandemic.

“The threat from the virus, let there be no doubt about it, continues to be constant in the country and it does not allow us to lower our guard at any time. Those who think that the level of immunity we have achieved with the vaccination campaign is enough to make the epidemic disappear are mistaken,” Portal Miranda states forcefully.

In an exercise of realism that clashes with the fantasy statement of the President, the Minister of Public Health states that there are many countries with their health systems in check due to the high infectivity of the Omicron variant, officially detected at the end of November in South Africa. Portal Miranda gives some data: recently one million infections were reported in the world within 24 hours; a few days later the figure became 3.8 million within one day. “These are worrying statistics that confirm the real magnitude of this new wave of the virus in all latitudes of the planet.”

The minister points out that Cuba is no exception, and last January 15 added 3,562 cases of Covid-19 to the Cuban list within just 24 hours, a figure close to the 3,845 that were recorded in all of December. It also puts Camagüey, Holguín, Las Tunas, Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Artemisa, Mayabeque and Cienfuegos as the most affected provinces so far this year, accumulating 64.7% of the cases.

Moreover, in the last week there were 22,919 infections, the fifth consecutive increase in cases and the sixth increase in hospitalizations. This figure leads him to conclude that any triumphalism is a mistake.

The minister indicates that 92.8% of the vaccine-eligible population has been immunized and that while this is a great advantage, it is not enough, since the virus continues to spread, even to those who have been vaccinated; and the greater the number of infected people, the more patients susceptible to negative outcomes there will be. “Each death is still regrettable.”

Diaz-Canel had boasted the day before, that the forecasts in Cuba estimated an exponential growth in the number of infections, calculating that currently there would be 6,000, but they have stabilized between 3,100 and 3,600. These figures have led to update the forecasts, which predicted that the new wave of Covid would not start to decrease until March, while calling for caution.

Portal Miranda wanted to curb the enthusiasm of his boss, and he has every reason to do so. Among the countries with the highest vaccination levels in the world are Spain and Portugal, which are close to 90%, and yet have been devastated by the Omicron wave. While the latter imposed new restrictions to contain the daily number of infections, the former reported more than 300,000 cases per day.

Although the system for recording data in Spain is different from that of Cuba, the incidence with Omicron has exceeded 3,000, an infection rate never seen before in Spain, despite being one of the countries most devastated by Covid-19 (with its high number of naturally immunized population) and having a universal and free health system.

Regarding the official nature of the data, Spain has experienced underreporting, since most of the autonomous communities legalized home antigen testing as a diagnostic method (resulting in a lack of official notifications); but in Cuba this distortion also occurs, as many people do not go to the health services for testing.

The Omicron variant, for the time being, continues to be studied and, despite the record figures it is leaving in the world, it seems to be confirmed that the severity of the infection is less severe and hospitalizations are less severe and prolonged. But deaths continue to occur: there are more than a hundred a day in Spain (with a population of 48 million), in spite of everything.

At the international level, efforts to contain the pandemic are now focused on increasing vaccination in the poorest countries, all of which have very low numbers, and on developing “sterilizing vaccines.” So far, the serums that have been found can enhance immunity by producing antibodies that fight against the contracted virus and defend against a severe form of the disease. Sterilizing vaccines prevent contagion, something that Omicron has shown to be very necessary.

Although many laboratories have been working on sterilizing vaccines for some time, still none have been tested that work. The USA, India, the UK and Spain have been testing intranasal vaccines for months (acting on the nasal mucosa, they could sterilize the upper respiratory tract, preventing the entry of the virus) and some attempts have failed to replicate in humans the response achieved in animals.

However, the director of Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), Marta Ayala, on Monday described as “challenging” and “novel” the intranasal vaccine candidate Mambisa, in which the authorities have placed hopes that it will sterilize, something that is still far from being proven, since the serum is still in Phase 1 of trials on the island.

The remaining Cuban vaccines, which passed national trials months ago, are still awaiting validation by the World Health Organization. Ayala said just yesterday that Cuba and the WHO maintain a “close” exchange, although the organization says that the meeting that must happen prior to the sending of the information has not yet taken place, nor has the information been accepted for review.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz


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