When the dangerous and highly infectious Delta variant began to ravage the small Caribbean island of Cuba this year, the government put its faith in vaccines.
As hospitals filled up with patients, depleting oxygen supplies and pushing the nation's healthcare system to the brink, local health officials raced to vaccinate eligible adults.
Now Cuba, a tiny island whose name often evokes images of cars from a bygone era, is vaccinating its population against COVID-19 at one of the fastest rates in the world. According to Our World in Data, almost 80 per cent of the population is partially vaccinated.
It expects to reach "full immunisation" against COVID-19 by the end of the year, its President has said.
If successful, it would be the first nation in the world to achieve such a task. And it would have done it all without a single dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines or any secured through the COVAX scheme.
Instead, it is mostly relying on its own homegrown vaccines.
"Cuba knew it [wasn't] going to be able to access vaccines easily or for an affordable price relative to their economy if they didn't produce it themselves," Jennifer Hosek, a Cuba watcher and professor in languages, literatures and cultures at Queens University, told the ABC.blockquote contentScore="75"">
"So they thought it’s best if they develop it and produce it themselves."
Today, Cuba's nationwide vaccine program is a source of pride for the country.Loading
One of its vaccines, Abdala, is named after a poem by young revolutionary and independence hero Jose Marti, while another, Soberana 2, means "sovereign".
But the vaccines have also attracted some degree of scepticism, amid concerns around the shroud of mystery surrounding their results.a href="/news/2021-10-17/covid-blog-nsw-victoria-tasmania-lockdown-press-conferences/100545498" data-component="ContentLink" data-uri="coremedia://article/100545498"">>Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from Sunday, October 17 with a look back at our blog
How Cuba went its own way on vaccines
Cuban scientists have developed three homegrown COVID-19 vaccines: the Abdala vaccine, Soberana 2 and the single-dose Soberana Plus.
The island began vaccinating an estimated 141,000 healthcare workers with its homegrown vaccine in March.
By May, the program was expanded to the general population despite the shots not having been cleared through clinical trials. The emergency measure was taken to help combat new coronavirus variants, which had been spreading rapidly in Cuba.
Local health officials say Cuba's Abdala and Soberana vaccines are safe and effective. They argue they are based on traditional technology used to vaccinate young children for decades.
The vaccines are so-called subunit vaccines, like the Medigen and Novavax shots. They work by directly injecting a small piece of the targeted virus — a subunit — into a person's body and stimulating an immune response.