The Regime Invites Tourists to Cuba: “Beaches, the Caribbean, Mojtos and Vaccines, All in One Place”

HAVANA, Cuba. – The year 2021 continues to be difficult for foreign tourism in Cuba, one of the main revenue generators for the economy of the island. According to information published recently by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI, by its Spanish acronym), 1,059,330 less travelers came to Cuba between January and June than during the same period in 2020.

That’s the reason why, due to the economic crisis Cuba is facing and aimed at favoring the tourism sector and reclaim travelers, the Cuban regime has assessed vaccine tourism, boasting its Abdala and Soberana 02 vaccines as its spearhead.

Countries like the United States, Maldives, Russia, Serbia, San Marino and the United Arab Emirates have greatly implemented vaccine tourism with the goal of attracting international travelers. Vaccine tourism entails visiting a foreign country to avail oneself of vaccines not available in one’s country of residence. 

Although the official website Cubadebate assured people in March that the Cuban government has not officially promoted vaccine tourism –alleging that the nation has to immunize all of its population first before the end of this year– a promotional video released by TeleSur television network on Twitter at the end of January, proves the opposite.

On that video, Dr. Vicente Vérez Bencomo, general director of the Finlay Vaccines Institute, stated that the country planned to produce up to 100 million vaccine doses of its Soberana 02 anti-COVID-19 vaccine (undergoing phase 3 clinical tests at present), and that “tourists will have the option, if they wish, to be vaccinated in Cuba as well.”

The video, which ends by promoting Cuba as a tourist destination, offers “Beaches, the Caribbean, mojitos and the vaccine, all in one place.” To conclude, it asks: “Would you travel to Cuba to be vaccinated?”

Likewise, Helen Yaffe, an economist from the University of Glasgow who specializes on Cuba, said to the Spanish daily La Vanguardia that Havana would offer vaccines “for all tourists and visitors to the island,” although it wasn’t known if the regime would propose the vaccine as part of a vacation package to foreigners.

According to the Cuban government, Abdala, manufactured by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, is the first anti-coronavirus vaccine developed and produced in Latin America and the Caribbean, after the Center for State Control of Medications, Equipment and Medical Devices (CECMED, by its Spanish acronym) authorized its emergency use.

Meanwhile, the vaccine candidates Soberana 01, 02 and Plus, and Mambisa, continue on different phases of clinical testing. In addition, the CIGB 2020 candidate, a product applied nasally and sublingually to stimulate local immunity, was authorized recently by CECMED to start phase 2 clinical testing. Presently undergoing research by Cuban and Chinese scientists is another COVID-19 antidote called “Pan-Corona”.

According to the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP, by its Spanish acronym), 12 million doses of Abdala and the vaccine candidates Soberana 02 and Soberana Plushave been administered to date. This means that over three million Cubans have received the third dose of both candidates and of the vaccine.

The regime, which does not need consent from the World Health Organization (WHO) for this type of bilateral agreements, hopes to produce sufficient quantities of the vaccines to be able to sell to other countries already on a waiting list.

Actually, long before its use was authorized, the Venezuelan government purchased 12 million doses of Abdala at the end of June.

Iran also approved the emergency use of Soberana 02, the first conjugate vaccine against COVID-19 in the world. It will be manufactured by the Islamic republic as well, under the commercial name PastuCovac.

In addition, during her visit to Cuba this past May, Argentina’s Health Minister, Carla Vizzotti, expressed interest in acquiring the Cuban vaccines. Countries like Mexico, Jamaica, Vietnam, Pakistan and India, as well as the African Union –on behalf of 55 African nations– also have indicated interest in Cuba’s anti-COVID-19 pharmaceuticals, according to Yaffe.

In spite of the fact that CECMED approved emergency use of Abdala, and that its immunization schedule showed (according to data made available by the Cuban government’s own institutions) that it was 100% effective in preventing death and systemic severe illness, and 92.28% effective regarding symptomatic illness, this efficacy has not been validated by international organizations nor have these results been published in scientific journals. 

To that effect, Jarbas Barbosa, Assistant Director of the Pan American Health Organization (OPAS, by its Spanish acronym), requested from “the manufacturers of Abdala” that they publish data about the efficacy of their vaccines in specialized journals “in order for the scientific community to learn about and evaluate publicly that data” and submit it to the WHO for evaluation.

In a press conference held in late June, the official stated that PAHO can only acquire vaccines that have been included in the WHO’s emergency-use list so they can be included in the COVAX network. For that, the manufacturers must submit to investigation, as well as their trials data.

Coincidentally, the regime informed publicly that it was not willing to join COVAX, the system that provides vaccines free-of-charge or at affordable prices to poor countries.

In May, the website Cubadebate replied to an article published on Rebelión digital media, wherein it described COVAX as a “hoax” and a “perverse commercial initiative against public health”. However, the official Cuban website recently published that the country had not totally dismissed COVAX, but was only prioritizing its own vaccines.

At present, Cuba is experiencing its third surge of contagion, aggravated by the presence of the coronavirus Delta variant. As a result, the country is facing the collapse of its health system, in spite of the propaganda with which its official media tries to deny it.

In spite of the fact that one of the factors that favored a spike in COVID-19 cases was the reopening of tourism several months ago, the regime continues to blame its citizens for the critical situation, accusing its people of “not complying with health measures”.

And, amidst this crisis, no government spokesman has withdrawn Cuba’s invitation made to the world through TeleSur: “Beaches, the Caribbean, mojitos and vaccines, all in one place.”

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