A man stands near a Cuban national flag at the Meliá Varadero International Hotel in Matanzas province, on October 23, 2020. Varadero, Cuba’s most important beach resort, reopens to international tourism, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
YAMIL LAGE | AFP | fake images
Cuba’s most advanced Covid-19 candidate vaccine is scheduled to enter late-stage clinical trials next week, pushing the small island nation closer and closer to an extraordinary medical achievement that analysts believe will have far-reaching consequences on all of the global south.
Cuba’s most promising candidate vaccine, of the four it has under development, is called Soberana 02. The name of the vaccine translates from Spanish as “Sovereign”, an ostensible nod to Cuba’s sense of national pride in its health system world renowned.
Sovereign 02 will enter Phase 3 trials starting March 1, and officials say the trials will include up to 150,000 volunteers in a few weeks. Phase 3 trials represent the final stage before a vaccine is generally approved by national regulators.
It comes at a time when many people in Cuba are forced to wait in line for hours to buy essentials and as authorities continue to navigate a decades-long U.S. trade embargo, with even tougher sanctions in recent years by the former President Donald Trump.
“It’s just this incredible dichotomy,” Helen Yaffe, an expert on Cuba and a professor of economic and social history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, told CNBC by phone.
“On the one hand we have this high-tech biotech sector that is bringing a lot of hope to the global south because it is the possibility of an affordable vaccine – (and) vaccinating the global south will be the priority,” Yaffe said.
“And at the same time the Cubans get up at four or five in the morning to queue because there is a real shortage of really basic food and even medicine.”
What do we know about Soberana 02?
The Finlay Institute of Cuba, the country’s leading biopharmaceutical institution, oversees the development of Soberana 02. Dr. Vicente Verez, director of the institute, has hinted that the vaccine could be available as an option for tourists later this year.
If Sovereign 02 is found to be safe and effective, the development of a domestically produced vaccine would likely be hailed as an astonishing scientific breakthrough and significant political triumph. It would also see Cuba become the first Latin American country to immunize its population with a domestically produced vaccine.
Technician Mayelin Mejías works at the Vaccine Aseptic and Containers Processing Plant of the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, on January 20, 2021.
YAMIL LAGE | AFP | fake images
The government has not yet outlined specific plans to vaccinate tourists, but analysts say foreigners traveling to Cuba may receive their first dose of vaccine on the island before receiving subsequent doses to take home.
Although public data is limited, it is believed that up to three doses of the vaccine could be given at two-week intervals.
Yaffe, who is also the author of “We Are Cuba !: How a Revolutionary People Have Survived in a Post-Soviet World,” said Cuba’s sophisticated healthcare system would help the country roll out the vaccine “extremely” quickly.
“I can guarantee that. And if they have a vaccine that’s every two weeks, within a month of starting, people could get vaccinated,” Yaffe said.
“For the summer, people are going to be quite desperate to go on vacation and I think Cuba proclaims itself as an ideal destination. People are already talking about sun, sea, sand and Sovereign 02. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if people He ends up going to Cuba to look for the vaccine and I am sure that the Cubans will offer it. “
How does it work?
The Sovereign 02 vaccine is a conjugate vaccine. This is a type of vaccine that carries a portion of the spike protein that binds, or conjugates, with human cells to enhance its stability and effectiveness.
Unlike other coronavirus vaccine candidates, such as Pfizer-BioNTech, among others, Soberana 02 does not require additional refrigeration requirements. This is likely to simplify the logistical and administrative challenges associated with vaccination programs in low-income countries.
People queue to buy food in Havana, on February 2, 2021, as Covid-19 cases increase in the island nation.
YAMIL LAGE | AFP | fake images
In a virtual session led by the Pan American Health Organization on February 5, Dr. Verez said that Soberana 02 had produced “encouraging results” during the early stages of testing. He added that the vaccination had not yet generated any significant adverse reactions.
The Cuban government has said it will produce 100 million doses of Sovereign 02 this year to meet the demands of its own citizens and those of other countries. Its goal is to be one of the first countries in the world to vaccinate its entire population by 2021, despite the fact that many advanced nations began administering jabs almost two months ago.
Several countries have expressed interest in acquiring the vaccine, such as Vietnam, Iran, Venezuela and the African Union, which represents the 55 countries in Africa.
Cuba, which has registered relatively few Covid cases compared to other countries in the region, has seen a sharp increase in infections and deaths in recent weeks. To date, Cuba has registered 45,361 cases of the coronavirus and 300 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
‘One of the best kept secrets in the world’
Cuba has long been recognized for its medical diplomacy, with thousands of specialized personnel sent abroad to help countries address short-term crises, natural disasters, and medical emergencies.
Human rights groups have expressed concern that the Cuban government will impose repressive regulations on doctors working abroad, citing the right to privacy, freedom, and freedom of expression and association.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, Cuba was estimated to have 24,500 doctors working in 58 countries. Another 4,000 members of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade, a group of highly respected healthcare professionals, have gone to work in countries from Kuwait to Mexico, from Italy to South Africa.
Cuban doctors during a welcoming ceremony for Cuban healthcare workers who were deployed to the Western Cape to support efforts in the fight against COVID-19 on May 24, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Misha Jordaan | Gallo Images via Getty Images
It’s a deep-rooted tradition that means the country of just over 11 million is believed to have more medical personnel working abroad than all the G-7 countries combined.
“This is an extraordinary record, largely unknown to the mainstream media, one of the best kept secrets in the world,” John Kirk, professor of the Latin America program at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, told CNBC by mail. electronic.
“Medical internationalism is in the Cuban DNA, and in fact the preamble to the Cuban constitution mentions the commitment that Cuba has to share its medical talent with developing countries,” he added.