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Dear Editor: Can trade unions really embrace Cuba yet ignore its vaccination practices?

“[…] What is the point, you may ask, of summarising the Cuban response to vaccination against Covid-19? 

“Well, let’s first look at some of the arguments against Government’s proposed policy of ‘semi-safe zones’ in the Public Sector, the expected legislation and its vaccination policy as advanced by T&T’s trade union movement…”

The following Letter to the Editor, which discusses the issue of the Trinidad and Tobago trade union movement’s responses to the Government’s proposal for so-called ‘mandatory vaccination’, was submitted to Wired868 by a former trade union member who requested anonymity:

Photo: A group of 216 Cuban health workers participate in an event at José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba before leaving for South Africa on 25 April 2020, to help in that country’s fight against Covid-19.
(Copyright EPA-EFE/ Ernesto Mastrascusa)

“As of 18 November (2021), 89% of Cuba’s population—including children as young as two — has received at least one dose of Soberana 02 or another Cuban vaccine called Abdala, which is produced at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in Havana.”

This level of vaccination represented the successful implementation of a very ambitious plan by the Cuban Government to vaccinate 90% of its population against Covid-19 by the end of December 2021.

Dr Verez Bencomo, Director of Cuba’s Laboratory National Bioproducts Center, adapted the use of the decades-old ‘conjugate- vaccine technology’ to tackle COVID-19. The on-line publication ‘Nature.com’ suggests that, at the time of publication, about 2 million of Cuba’s children were fully vaccinated.

According to a Reuters publication, which cites the Cubadate Digital News Outlet, all children between ages of two and 18 years will be vaccinated with two doses of its locally produced vaccines, Abdala, Soberana-02 or Soberana-Plus. The celebrated Cuban, Russian and French-educated Director of Cuba’s National Laboratory PhD Verez Bencomo, says that ‘unpublished data suggest the vaccine is safe and effective’.

Photo: A Cuban doctor shows off his country’s vaccine.
(Copyright Telesur)

Llena Morales Suárez, a Cuban Ministry of Health official, confirmed that the roll-out of this vaccination plan, in fact, closely resembled its many annual community-based clinic vaccination activities.

Dr Bencomo confirmed that about 28,000 Cubans out of its population of 11 million participated in the Soberana-02 trial, which proved the vaccine to be 71%-92% effective. Another 48,000 participated in the trials for Abdala, a three-dose vaccine.

He summarises that this was as effective as the trials for the already World Health Organization (WHO)-approved Johnson & Johnson (J&J), and AstraZeneca vaccines.

The Cuban research team also seemed to underscore their confidence in the WHO standards for the approval of vaccines. Their confidence in the safety of their own vaccines prompted their relatively new president, Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, to boast that, by the end of the last calendar year, the targets of Cuba’s ambitious vaccination plans would have been achieved.

Photo: Cuba President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (left) and his immediate predecessor Raúl Castro proudly fly the Cuban flag.
Diaz-Canela previously served as Castro’s vice-president.

What is the point, you may ask, of summarising the Cuban response to vaccination against Covid-19? Well, let’s first look at some of the arguments against Government’s proposed policy of ‘semi-safe zones’ in the Public Sector, the expected legislation and its vaccination policy as advanced by T&T’s trade union movement:

1. Government’s policy decisions are based on incorrect classification of many deaths: As of the 25 January, T&T has a total of 3335 deaths officially classified as Covid-19-related. If we assume only 25% (834 deaths) of these have been correctly categorised, would that not justify the restrictive decisions taken by the T&T Government and by governments everywhere, including Cuba, in order to reduce infections and save lives?

Ironically, it was the opening of the Cuban borders without a requirement to test that led to a significant spike in infections and, subsequently, this ambitious vaccination roll-out.

2. The vaccines were developed too quickly: We are in a pandemic. Can we afford to wait 10 years for a vaccine? Cuba, the only developer of a vaccine in the Caribbean and Latin America, came up with theirs between 2020 and 2022 as had all other developers. Like many of the other manufacturers, Cuba’s Laboratory adapted existing vaccination technologies to produce their vaccines.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley receives his Covid-19 Sinopharm vaccine shot on 13 July 2021.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

3. We are not sure what’s in the vaccines: This is true. But, as clearly articulated by Bencomo, vaccines for many childhood diseases and other vaccines for tetanus, hepatitis, etc have been created from similar technologies.

This may be an overly dismissive response. Of course, it does not explain or identify what is in the Covid-19 vaccines or what are the ingredients of or in any of the vaccines.

However, it clearly underscores that we have always trusted the majority of the approaches used to develop the vaccines that continue to protect us from a variety of otherwise deadly infections and diseases.

As a matter of fact, by November 2021, Cuba had administered at least one dose of a vaccine to just over 80% of its population, inclusive of over two million children. They have not yet, however, published all of the data on their vaccines.

4. Each citizen has the freedom to choose if (s)he gets vaccinated: Personal rights should never be trampled upon. The greater good does not diminish our personal rights.

Photo: Prominent trade unionists Ancel Roget (left) and David Abdulah.

Coming from the belly of the progressive trade union movement, I am a genuine believer in our individual rights. I am also a keen observer of the best traditions of the trade union movement that tends to accept the tenet of collective responsibility.

I also, therefore, appreciate the symbolism of Cuba’s resistance against capitalist ideals and, therefore, the romanticism in the attitude of many comrades to the Cuban way of life.

This leads me to conclude with just two questions:

Do FITUN and JTUM generally support the Cuban model of governance?

If so, do we believe that the Cuban Government achieved this level of vaccination without a policy of mandatory vaccination?

 

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4 comments

  1. Every trade union should embrace Cuba for its vaccination success, its health care and education expertise, its selfless sharing of those skills.

    Cuba did not need to make vaccination mandatory. In fact, every Cuban I know–and I know many–have been anxious to access their vaccination shots. Why is this? Because Cuba has so many doctors, nurses and health care professionals per capita (the highest in the world) that practically every Cuban has at least one family member in the medical profession. Cuba has the most respected doctors in the world, both inside and out.

    Cuban confidence in their health care system is very high. When Covid first struck, every household received Cuba’s home-made Interferon B immune system booster for free. In addition, to compensate for the US blockading food and medical supplies like testing kits, Cuban medical students and public health workers go door-to-door daily, checking on people’s health. Personal contact and information sharing gives people confidence in vaccines.

    Then add to this the fact that the vaccine on offer is not from some soulless USA pharmaceutical company. It is home-made Cuban vaccine, coming from Cuba’s bio-pharmaceutical experts who are respected worldwide.

    Cuba is united around its health care and public health system. I would venture to say also that many countries in the Caribbean currently have a public health care system in part because the people within their countries demanded it. But also because the rich in those countries were well aware that the lack of health care that sparked a revolution in Cuba might well spark revolutions in neighbouring countries if health care concessions were not forthcoming.

    So thank you, Cuba, from an admiring Canadian, who wishes Canada with all of its wealth had given back to as many.

  2. It is indeed ironic that trade unionists in Trinidad and Tobago continue to mislead their followers and, by extension, those members of the general public inclined to give them an ear. What these politicians are doing (and they are politicians, because they are playing political games, with people’s lives as the currency of choice) is to also blissfully ignore the fact that THE CUBAN VACCINES DO NOT MEET WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION STANDARDS FOR DEPLOYMENT.
    Cuba has withheld information critical to WHO approval of vaccines. As at December 23rd, 2021, The WHO says of ALL the Cuban vaccines (Soberana 01, Soberana 02, & Soberana Plus Abdala), in a document titled, “Status of COVID-19 Vaccines within WHO EUL/PQ evaluation process”, that it is “Awaiting information on strategy and timelines for submission”.
    In other words, the WHO has no idea what is in the vaccine that Cuba has deployed and Cuba seems to be refusing to comply with the established practices for vaccine approval by the WHO.
    It is therefore not incorrect to say that Cubans and Venezuelan children under the age of 17 (as per regulations enforced by the Maduro regime in Venezuela) are being experimented upon by the Cuban government, without their consent.
    It would not surprise me that our trade unionists are fine with this treatment of the citizens of those countries, as they usually are; it is also no surprise that when the government of Trinidad and Tobago tries to implement a mandatory regime in the PUBLIC INTEREST, they scream about their “rights”.
    Pathetic does not begin to describe these beings.

    • You are misguided, sir. The WHO determines its own approval process, which has been slow to say the least. Cuba has a world-class bio- pharmaceutical industry that has projects in place with both the USA and China. I am not sure what your interest is in this fear-mongering but it is clearly politically rather than factually motivated.

      You should be much more concerned with the expense of the vaccines like Pfizer that keep them out of reach of millions. Why is that of so little concern to you?

  3. Excellent letter! I have been making the same point for months. When I asked the question why oppose mandatory vaccination in T&T while you support without question the Cuban Government, which has always implemented same, one “comrade” responded on Wired by saying he holds contradictory positions (Trini v Cuba) because “the people trust the Cuban Government”.
    The so-called “progressives” in the trade union movement are hypocritical. Cynically so. And they are just being oppositionists and political opportunists while bleating on about “freedom of choice”.
    Imagine, one of them named a company “Patriotic”. Joke.