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Cuba banking on homemade vaccine, promises 100 million doses

. Feb 04, 2021
cuba homemade vaccine pandemic Image: André Chiavassa/Shutterstock

In Brazil, it is common for anyone even slightly to the left of Jair Bolsonaro to be told to “go to Cuba” by the president’s most vociferous supporters. The flawed rationale behind the ‘insult’ is that the far-right sees the socialist island as a miserable hellhole, and that anyone who disagrees with Mr. Bolsonaro must be a card-carrying communist.

But since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, some of the president’s opponents might just heed this advice, as Cuba has handled the Covid-19 crisis better than almost all of its neighbors and is now close to producing its own homemade vaccine.

</p> <p>The Soberana 02 vaccine began advanced phase-two clinical trials on January 20, testing its safety on a sample population of around 900 volunteers, aged between 19 and 90. Having overtaken Cuba&#8217;s original vaccine candidate (Soberana 01), it is now the only Latin American-made immunizer to be registered by the World Health Organization (WHO), out of a total of 63.</p> <p>Vicente Vérez, director of the state-owned Finlay Vaccine Institute (IFV), says that once results from the so-called &#8216;phase 2B&#8217; clinical trials are released, Cuba can begin testing the vaccine&#8217;s efficacy. The plan is to test the immunizer on 150,000 at-risk Cuban residents.</p> <p>But there&#8217;s a snag. Cuba has recorded more than <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2021/01/22/cuba-reports-new-coronavirus-variant-amid-peak-of-cases/">29,000 coronavirus infections</a> and 220 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, giving it the lowest per capita death rate of any Latin American nation. However, this success means that Cuba does not have access to enough infected individuals to properly carry out clinical trials.</p> <p>To remedy this &#8216;lack of patients,&#8217; Cuba signed a bilateral agreement with the Pasteur Center in Iran on January 9, to help the island&#8217;s experts to &#8220;complete the [production of] clinical evidence for Soberana 02.&#8221; The decision was praised by the country&#8217;s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said Iran “<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/01/08/iran-khamenei-bans-us-uk-coronavirus-vaccines/">should not trust</a>” the vaccines from the U.S. and the United Kingdom.</p> <p>Besides Iran, Venezuela, Pakistan, Vietnam, and India have shown interest in purchasing stocks of Soberana 02 in the coming months. The Cuban Health Ministry stated that 100 million doses will be made available in the next six months, and the intention is to use the surplus production to aid other countries.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Cuba’s vaccine legacy&nbsp;</h2> <p>The history of immunological studies in Cuba dates back to the second half of the 19th century, with the creation of the Practical Institute of Animal Vaccines in 1868, paving the way for future vaccine production, research, and development. And since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, healthcare has become one of the cornerstones of the island&#8217;s socialist state.</p> <p>According to the WHO, Cuba currently has more than 95,000 doctors, making its average of 9 for every 1,000 inhabitants the world&#8217;s highest. Furthermore, health spending in Cuba regularly surpasses that of developed nations, as the country offers a free and universal health service to its population.&nbsp;</p> <p>And it is with this structure that Cuba has developed the tools to study at least 23 other medicines which could be used to treat Covid-19. The latest such drug development is nasal spray Nasalferon, which health officials have been administering to all foreign visitors as part of its strict border control measures.</p> <p>Studies carried out in the country shows that Nasalferon strengthens the immune system and prevents the virus from replicating, reducing the chance of patients developing severe symptoms. The Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) is also buoyant about testing results of antiviral drug Interferon Alpha 2B, deemed as being “important” while the population awaits vaccination.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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