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Why the extraordinary success of Cuba’s Covid vaccine may offer the best hope for low-income countries


Workers transport a shipment of the Cuban Soberana Plus vaccine against the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, donated to Syria by the Cuban government, at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, January 7, 2022.

YAMIL LAGE | AFP | beautiful pictures

Cuba has vaccinated a percentage of its population against Covid-19 more than almost all of the largest and richest countries in the world. In fact, only the oil-rich United Arab Emirates has a stronger vaccination record.

The Communist-run Caribbean island has achieved this important milestone by making its own Covid vaccine, even as they struggle to keep supermarket shelves stocked amid a decades-long US trade embargo.

“It’s an incredible feat,” Helen Yaffe, a Cuban expert and lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, told CNBC by phone.

“Those of us who have studied biotechnology are not surprised in that sense, because it doesn’t just appear to be in the green. It is the product of a conscious government policy on investment by state into the field, both public health and medical science.”

To date, about 86% of the Cuban population has been fully vaccinated with three doses of the vaccine against Covid, and another 7% has been partially vaccinated against the disease, according to official statistics. translate by Our Data World.

These numbers include children as young as two years old, who started receiving the vaccine a few months ago. The country’s health authorities are rolling out booster shots to the entire population this month to limit the spread of the highly contagious omicron Covid variant.

This country of about 11 million people remains the only one in Latin America and the Caribbean to have created a homegrown shot for Covid.

John Kirk, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s Latin America program in Nova Scotia, Canada, told CNBC by Phone.

I think it’s clear that many countries and populations in the global south see the Cuban vaccine as their best hope of getting vaccinated by 2025.

Helen Yaffe

Lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow,

Cuba’s prestigious biotech sector has developed five different Covid vaccines, including Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus – all of which Cuba says provide up to 90% protection against Covid symptoms after three doses.

Cuba’s vaccine clinical trial data has yet to undergo international scientific peer-review, although the country has participated in two virtual information exchanges with the World Health Organization to begin the Emergency Use Listing process for its vaccine.

Unlike the US pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna, using mRNA technology, all Cuban vaccines are subunit protein vaccines – like the Novavax vaccine. Importantly for low-income countries, they are cheap to produce, can be produced on a large scale, and do not require deep freezing.

It has led international health officials to see the shots as a potential source of hope for the “global south”, especially as low vaccination rates persist. For example, while about 70% of people in the European Union are fully immunized, less than 10% of fully vaccinated Africans.

However, for this to hopefully materialize, WHO will likely have to approve the Cuban vaccine. The WHO inspection process includes an assessment of the manufacturing facilities where the vaccine was developed, a point that Cuban health officials say has slowed progress.

Vicente Verez, head of Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute, told Reuters last month that the United Nations health agency was evaluating Cuban production facilities against “first world standards”, citing the rationale. costly process in upgrading their facility to that level.

Verez has previously said that the required documents and data will be submitted to WHO in the first quarter of 2022. WHO approval will be an important step towards making the shots available worldwide.

‘Great Meaning’

When asked what it would mean for low-income countries if the WHO approved Cuba’s Covid vaccine, Yaffe said: “I think it’s clear that many countries and people in the global south consider the Cuban vaccine. is their best hope of getting vaccinated by 2025.”

“And in fact, it affects all of us because what we’re seeing with the omicron variation is what happens when a large population is barely covered is you have mutations and the variables new bodies are developing and then they come back to haunt the advanced capitalist countries that have hoarded vaccines,” she added.

A man wears a mask as he walks down the street amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Havana, Cuba, October 2, 2021.

Joaquin Hernandez | Xinhua News Agency | beautiful pictures

Last year, the WHO said the world was likely to have enough doses of the Covid vaccine by 2022 to fully immunize the entire global adult population – which puts high-income countries off stockpiling. for use in enhancement programs.

Along with pharmaceutical industry trade associations, a number of Western countries – such as Canada, the UK and Japan – are among them. actively block patent waiver proposal is designed to accelerate the production of a Covid vaccine globally.

The urgency of giving up some intellectual property rights in the context of a pandemic has been repeatedly expressed by WHO, health professionals, civil society groups, trade unions, former world leaders, organizations international medical charities, Nobel laureates and human rights organizations emphasize.

Hesitation there is no vaccine

The seven-day average of daily Covid cases in Cuba rose to 2,063 on January 11, reflecting a nearly 10-fold increase since late December as the omicron variant spread.

It comes as the number of omicron Covid infections increases across countries and territories in the Americas region. The Inter-American Health Organization, WHO’s regional office for the Americas, has warned that the surge in cases could lead to increased hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks.

PAHO has called on countries to speed up vaccination coverage to reduce Covid transmission and has repeated its recommendation for public health measures such as wearing full face masks – a mandatory requirement in Cuba.

Yaffe has long been confident in Cuba’s ability to boast one of the strongest vaccination records in the world. Speaking to CNBC last February — before the country even developed a homegrown vaccine — she said she could “guarantee” it. that Cuba will be able to use the domestically produced Covid vaccine extremely quickly.

“It’s not a guess,” Yaffe said. “It’s based on an understanding of their public health care system and its structure. So the fact that they have what they call GPs and nurse clinics in every area. vicinity.”

Students traveling with their mothers receive a dose of Soberana 2 vaccine against the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, developed in Cuba, at the Bolivar education center in Caracas, Venezuela on December 13, 2021.

Pedro Rances Mattey | Anadolu Agency | beautiful pictures

Many of these clinics are based in rural and hard-to-reach areas and that means health authorities can quickly deliver vaccines to islanders.

“The other aspect is that they don’t have a vaccine hesitancy movement, which is something we’re seeing in a lot of countries,” Yaffe said.

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