How to get a Cuban COVID vaccine in 1,000 easy steps | Coronavirus pandemic

On Valentine’s Day 2022 in Havana, Cuba, I received the Soberana Plus booster, one of the island nation’s five COVID-19 vaccines. The blow had been long in coming.

For the past year, I had obsessed over getting injected with a Cuban-made coronavirus vaccine. Although they obviously offered no protection against the imperial machinations of my homeland and Cuba’s main antagonist, the United States, Cuban serums were at least developed in the interests of global public health rather than the pharmaceutical profiteering or “vaccine apartheid,” as World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has described it.

Having inadvertently taken up residence in Mexico at the start of the pandemic in 2020, I had originally decided to fly to Havana in April 2021 to await the availability of vaccines. This plan has undergone seemingly endless adjustments, as the pandemic-induced suspension of single flight paths between Mexico and Cuba – normally a two-hour trip – has left me with flight options like Mexico City-Cancun-Vancouver-Heathrow- Frankfurt-Havana and Mexico City. -Cancun-Panama City-Bogota-Madrid-Havana.

Finding flights has been made all the more enjoyable by the interference of the United States – which, in addition to subjecting Cuba to a debilitating 60-year embargo for the crime of refusing to submit to capitalist tyranny, has also ensured that travelers wishing to view flights to Cuba on Mexican airline Aeroméxico’s website cannot do so without being bombarded with warnings about US restrictions on travel to the country. Forced to certify that I qualified for one of the permitted reasons to visit Cuba as a US citizen, I selected “support for the Cuban people” – as if that had ever been a genuine concern for the global superpower which, since the 1960s, has literally plotted to starve the nation into submission.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has provided the United States with an opportunity for an even more sadistic treatment of Cuba – and, rather than lifting sanctions in accordance with the urgent encouragement of United Nations human rights experts, the administrations of Donald Trump and his successor Joe Biden have rather intensified them.

The obstruction of Cuba’s medical import embargo – a deadly undertaking if ever there was one – meant that Cuba faced a severe shortage of, among other things, syringes and ventilators. In an August 2021 dispatch for NBC News, Havana-based journalist Ed Augustin clarified that “two Swiss companies that had previously sold ventilators to Cuba said they could no longer continue to do business with the island after their acquisition by Vyaire Medical, an Illinois company”. — such is the nature of US efforts to isolate an already isolated island.

And in a May 2021 article for the Guardian, Augustin reported that the various Cuban research teams working on COVID-19 vaccines needed to “share a single spectrometer – an essential machine for quality control – powerful enough to analyze the structure chemistry of a vaccine. The British manufacturer of the machine having been acquired by an American company, go to capitalism! – Cubans could no longer buy spare parts directly.

Biden’s decision to leave Cuba on the official list of state sponsors of terrorism — to which he was unceremoniously added during Trump’s final days as president — has also not helped the country’s ability to engage in the international financial panorama. This, despite the fact that designating Cuba as a state sponsor of terror is more or less the absurd equivalent of applying the Terror Sponsor label to Stonehenge or the pasta aisle of a given supermarket.

In light of these technically crippling hurdles, it’s quite astonishing that Cuba has managed to manufacture no less than five coronavirus vaccines — let alone its own ventilators and other medical equipment. As of December 2021, more than 90% of Cuba’s population has already been vaccinated with at least one dose, making it not only the smallest country in the world to produce its own vaccines against COVID-19, but also a world leader. in the administration of vaccines. It has already been reported that various Cuban vaccines enjoy an efficacy rate of over 90%.

Ultimately, however, it’s all part of Cuba’s thriving biotech industry and Cuba’s modus operandi of sticking it to empire by exercising national sovereignty. It is no coincidence that Soberana, the name of the vaccine I finally received, means “sovereign” in English. Abdala, the name of another of Cuba’s vaccines, is inspired by a poem by Cuban independence hero José Martí. And all of this, of course, is driving the United States crazy.

Notwithstanding my dream of being vaccinated in Cuba, I would receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine myself in New York in August 2021 in an effort to facilitate international travel – which was just as well since, by the time I landed in Havana in February 2022, Cubans had begun requiring a vaccination certificate as a prerequisite for entry.

I arrived in the Cuban capital just in time for the 60th anniversary of the US embargo on February 7. Basics like coffee and milk were in short supply. Vaccines, on the other hand, were not.

I was directed to the Cira García Clinic in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood, which was one of the favorite places for foreigners wishing to inject themselves with Cuban coronavirus vaccines and which featured a portrait of Fidel Castro in the lobby. For Cubans, of course, the vaccine is completely free – like health care in general – but for me, I was told, the Soberana Plus booster would incur a $45 fee. It was, in my opinion, a small price to pay to atone for the excesses of my country, and it was the least I could do in terms of “support for the Cuban people”.

Although the price was in US dollars, the currency could not be used as a form of payment, nor any other form of cash. Instead, a Cuban MLC (for Moneda Libremente Convertible, or freely convertible currency) card was required – and, significantly, US dollars could not be placed on said card.

Then followed an adventure in which I had to find a Cuban ready to lend me his MLC card and accompany me to a bank and then to the clinic after depositing the equivalent of $45 on his card. We went down to the bank with my collection of euros, Mexican pesos and Turkish liras, and got the desired equivalent, after which we headed to Cira García to fulfill my one-year dream, at least the I thought.

At the clinic, my elation was quickly replaced by panic when the kind doctor in his seventies pulled out a blood pressure monitor – a device that has inspired me with unnatural terror for as long as I can remember. Apparently it wasn’t possible to administer my Soberana Plus booster without first getting a blood pressure reading indicating that I didn’t have a stroke and/or heart attack – and, of course, my readings were off the charts, even after the doctor had spent half an hour trying to calm me down with accounts of his four years of medical service in Mozambique at the time.

Today, Cuba continues to send tens of thousands of medical personnel abroad, in accordance with its decades-long policy of “doctors, not bombs” – which has seen the small nation pledge to fight the global proliferation of everything from malaria and tuberculosis to Ebola and coronavirus. At home, Cuba has the highest doctor-to-patient ratio in the world – not to mention the right-wing propaganda from my own almighty country that would rather bomb than save people, and which proliferates a narrative that Cuba trafficking of slave doctors” has led to a shortage of national medical personnel.

When the Cuban doctor’s Mozambican escapades failed to lower my blood pressure, the owner of the MLC card – who himself was from none other than Guantánamo province, site of the illegal offshore penal colony from the United States with torture center (talk about unnatural terror) – brought me some homemade wine in the hospital for the purpose of relaxing me. Nothing worked and I was sent home with instructions to monitor my blood pressure daily. The elderly doctor pointed out that, if the readings continued to be high, he could arrange a psychological evaluation to determine what the underlying explanations for my neurosis might be – far, of course, from the American approach to health care, which is basically to profitably cure the hell out of all symptoms without trying to detect a root cause or connect the dots.

In the end, I got my Soberana Plus booster in Havana. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t at the Cira García Clinic and there was no blood pressure monitor involved – although the whole episode prompted me to order such a device off the internet at home at Mexico, so that I can practice behavior as a non-neurotic human being in the future. This business was also temporarily thwarted when I discovered that due to US sanctions, a person physically located in Cuba cannot order a blood pressure monitor through Amazon Mexico to be delivered to their home in Mexico, and that their mother in the US state of Kentucky must enter her Amazon account to order the device for them.

Meanwhile, Cuba is pushing ahead with plans to provide tens of millions of doses of local coronavirus vaccines to countries in the South – a surefire antidote to the WHO’s global “vaccine apartheid” diagnosis. As even the pro-imperialist Washington Post angrily reported last year, Cuba was supposed to be “developing cheap, easy-to-stock serums.” They are able to last at room temperature for weeks and in long term storage up to 46.4 degrees. [46.4C or 115.5F]making it potentially a viable option for low-income tropical countries that have been sidelined by larger, wealthier nations in the international fray for coronavirus vaccines.”

The majority of Cuban children between the ages of 2 and 18 have now been fully vaccinated, which, as Reuters news agency noted in February, “proved critical in fending off the highly infectious variant of Omicron before that she does not settle on the island”. And as Cuba continues to shame much of the world on the coronavirus front, it could be said that the Cuban people support us far more than we support them.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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