Why Cuba’s extraordinary Covid vaccine success could provide the best hope for the global south

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  • Cuba’s prestigious biotech sector has so far developed five different COVID vaccines, including Abdala, Sobrana 02 and Sobrana Plus – all of which Cuba said have 90 against symptomatic COVID-19 when administered in three-dose plans. Provides more than % protection.
  • The country of around 11 million is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean to have produced a home shot for Covid.
  • WHO’s potential approval of Cuba’s nationally produced COVID vaccines would be “very important” for the global South, John Kirk, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s Latin America Program in Nova Scotia, Canada, told CNBC via telephone.

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Cuba has vaccinated a higher percentage of its population against COVID-19 than almost all the largest and richest countries in the world. In fact, only the oil-rich UAE has a strong vaccination record.

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The small communist-run Caribbean island has achieved this milestone by producing its own COVID vaccine, even as it struggles to keep supermarket shelves afloat amid a decades-old US trade ban.

“This is an incredible achievement,” Helen Yaffe, a Cuban expert and lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, told CNBC via telephone.

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“Those of us who have studied biotech are not surprised in this sense, as it has not just come out of the blue. It is the product of a conscious government policy of state investment in the sector, both in public health and medicine. Science.”

According to official figures, to date, about 86% of the Cuban population have been fully vaccinated against COVID with three doses, and another 7% have been partially vaccinated against the disease. compiled By Our World in Data.

These figures include children as young as two years old who started receiving the vaccine several months ago. The country’s health officials are administering booster shots to the entire population this month to limit the spread of the highly permeable Omicron Covid variant.

The country of around 11 million is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean to have produced a home shot for Covid.

“It’s an extraordinary thing for this tiny little country to produce its own vaccines and vaccinate 90% of its population,” John Kirk, professor emeritus in Dalhousie University’s Latin America Program in Nova Scotia, Canada, told CNBC. Phone.

I think it is clear that many countries and populations in the global south see the Cuban vaccine as their best hope for vaccination by 2025.
Helen Yaffee
Lecturer of Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow,

Cuba’s prestigious biotech sector has developed five different COVID vaccines including Abdala, Sobrana 02 and Sobrana Plus – all of which Cuba says provide more than 90% protection against symptomatic COVID when three doses are administered.

Cuba’s vaccine clinical trial data has yet to undergo international scientific peer review, although the country is engaged in two virtual exchanges of information with the World Health Organization. To initiate the emergency use listing process for its vaccines.

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

This has prompted international health officials to tout the shots as a potential source of hope for the global South, especially as low vaccination rates continue. For example, while about 70% of people in the European Union are fully vaccinated, less than 10% The African population has been fully vaccinated.

However, for this hope to come true, the WHO will probably have to approve Cuban vaccines. The WHO’s investigation process includes assessing the production facilities where the vaccines are developed, a point that Cuban health officials say has slowed progress.

Vicente Verez, the head of Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute, told Reuters last month that the United Nations health agency was evaluating Cuba’s manufacturing facilities as “first-world standard”, a process costly to upgrade to that level. was referring to.

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

‘extreme importance’

Asked what this would mean for low-income countries, should the WHO approve Cuba’s COVID vaccines, Yaffe said: “I think it’s clear that many countries and populations in the global south are in Cuba. vaccines as our best hope for immunization by 2025.”

“And really, it affects all of us because what we’re seeing with the Omicron variant is what happens when there’s almost no coverage of the vast population that you have mutations and new variants are evolving.” And then they come back to haunt the advanced capitalist countries, collecting vaccines,” he said.

Kirk agreed that the WHO’s potential approval of Cuba’s nationally produced COVID vaccines would be “very important” for the global South.

“One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that vaccines don’t require the ultra-low temperatures that Pfizer and Moderna require, so there are places, especially in Africa, where you can have these global warming.” There is no storage capacity. Answer vaccines,” Kirk said.

He also pointed out that Cuba had offered to engage in the transfer of technology to share its vaccine production expertise with the global South, unlike other countries or pharmaceutical companies.

“The purpose of Cuba is not to make money fast, unlike multinational pharmaceutical corporations, but to keep the planet healthy. Therefore, it is to make honest profits, but not exorbitant profits as some multinationals make,” Kirk said. said. ,

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned last month that the “tsunami” of Covid cases driven by the Omicron edition was “so large and so fast” that it affected health systems around the world.

Tedros reiterated his call for greater vaccine distribution to help low-income countries vaccinate their populations, the United Nations health agency’s goal to fully vaccinate 70% of the world by July With over 100 countries to remember.

The WHO said last year that the world was likely to have enough COVID vaccine doses to fully vaccinate the entire global adult population in 2022 – with high-income countries not hoarding vaccines to use in booster programs .

Along with pharmaceutical industry trade associations, several Western countries – such as Canada, the UK and Japan – are among those actively blocking patent-exemption proposals designed to boost global production of COVID vaccines .

The urgency to waive certain intellectual property rights amid the pandemic has been repeatedly underscored by the WHO, health experts, civil society groups, trade unions, former world leaders, international medical charities, Nobel laureates and human rights organizations.

Lack of Vaccine Hesitation

The seven-day average of daily COVID cases in Cuba climbed to 2,063 as of January 11, marking a nearly 10-fold increase since the end of December as the Omicron version spreads.

This comes as a result of the increasing number of Omicron COVID cases in the countries and territories of the Americas region. The Pan American Health Organization, the WHO’s regional US office, has warned that an increase in cases could lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks.

PAHO has called on countries to accelerate vaccination coverage to reduce COVID transmission and reiterated its recommendation for public health measures such as tight-fitting masks – a mandatory requirement in Cuba.

Yaffe has long believed in Cuba’s ability to claim one of the world’s strongest vaccination records. Speaking to CNBC in February last year – before the country had developed a home vaccine – she said she could “guarantees” That Cuba will be able to administer its domestically produced COVID vaccine very quickly.

“It wasn’t a guess,” Yaffe said. “It was based on understanding their public health care system and its structure. Hence, the fact that they have family doctor and nurse clinics in every neighborhood.”

Many of these clinics are located in rural and inaccessible areas and this means that health officials can quickly distribute vaccines to the island’s population.

“The flip side is that they don’t have the vaccine hesitancy movement, which is something we’re seeing in many countries,” Yaffe said.

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