A man stands next to a Cuban National Flag at the Melia Varadero International Hotel in Matanzas Province on October 23, 2020. Varadero, Cuba’s most important resort in Cuba, is reopening to international tourism amid the coronavirus pandemic.
YAMIL LAGE | AFP | Getty Images
Cuba’s most advanced vaccine candidate Covid-19 is scheduled to enter clinical trials late next week, plunging the small island country closer and closer to an extraordinary medical achievement that analysts believe will have consequences large across the global south.
The most promising candidate for Cuba vaccine, out of four in development, is named Sovereign 02. The vaccine name translates from Spanish as “Sovereign”, an apparent nod to Cuba’s sense of national pride in its world-famous health system.
Soberana 02 is expected to enter the Phase 3 trials from 1 March, and officials say the tests will involve up to 150,000 volunteers within weeks. Phase 3 trials represent the final stage before a vaccine is generally approved by national regulators.
This comes at a time when many people in Cuba are forced to wait in line for hours to buy basic goods and as authorities continue to navigate a decades-old US trade embargo with sanctions tightened even more over the years last by former President Donald Trump.
“It’s just this incredible dichotomy,” Helen Yaffe, a Cuban expert and lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, told CNBC by telephone.
“On the one hand you have this high-tech biotechnology sector which 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 Cubans are getting up at four or five in the morning to line up because there is a real shortage of really basic food and even medicine.”
The Finlay Institute of Cuba, the country’s main biopharmaceutical institution, is overseeing the development of Soberana 02. Dr. Vicente Verez, the institute’s director, has hinted that the vaccine could be made available as an option for tourists later this year.
If Soberana 02 is found to be safe and effective, the development of a locally produced vaccine is likely to be hailed as an amazing scientific breakthrough and a significant political triumph. It would also see Cuba become the first Latin American country to immunize its population with a locally produced vaccine.
Technician Mayelin Mejias works at the Aseptic Vaccine Processing and Packaging Plant at the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, January 20, 2021.
YAMIL LAGE | AFP | Getty Images
The government has not yet outlined specific plans for inoculating tourists, but analysts say there is a possibility that foreigners traveling to Cuba may receive their first dose of the vaccine on the island before taking subsequent doses to take home with them. .
While public records are limited, it is thought that up to three doses of the vaccine can be administered at two-week intervals.
Yaffe, who is also the author of “We are Cuba !: How a Revolutionary People Lived in a Post-Soviet World,” said Cuba’s sophisticated health care system would help the country get the vaccine “extremely” quickly.
“I can guarantee it. And if they get a vaccine that is every two weeks, then within a month from the start people can be vaccinated,” Yaffe said.
“By summer, people will be quite desperate to go on holiday and I think Cuba that names itself as an ideal destination. People are already talking about the sun, the sea, the sand and Soberana 02. So, I will not “I’m surprised if people end up going to Cuba asking for the vaccine and I’m sure the Cubans will offer it.”
The Soberana 02 vaccine is a combined vaccine. This is a type of vaccine that carries a portion of the spike protein which binds, or binds, to human cells to enhance its stability and effectiveness.
Unlike other candidates for coronavirus vaccines, such as Pfizer-BioNTech among others, Soberana 02 does not require additional cooling requirements. This is likely to simplify the logistical and administrative challenges associated with vaccination programs in low-income countries.
People queue up to buy food in Havana, on February 2, 2021, as Covid-19 cases rise in the island nation.
YAMIL LAGE | AFP | Getty Images
In a virtual session led by the Pan American Health Organization on February 5th, Dr. Verez said Soberana 02 had returned “encouraging results” during the early stages of testing. He added that the vaccination had not yet generated any noticeable side effects.
The Cuban government has said will produce 100 million doses of Soberana 02 this year to meet the demands of its citizens as well as those in other countries. It aims to be one of the first countries in the world to vaccinate its entire population in 2021, despite the fact that many advanced nations began administering the strikes almost two months ago.
Several countries have expressed interest in purchasing the vaccine, such as Vietnam, Iran, Venezuela and the African Union which represents all 55 countries in Africa.
Cuba, which has recorded relatively few Covid cases when compared to other countries in the region, has seen a sharp rise in infections and fatalities in recent weeks. To date, Cuba has recorded 45,361 cases of coronavirus and 300 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Cuba has long been known for its medical diplomacy, with thousands of specialized staff sent abroad to help countries deal with short-term crises, natural disasters and medical emergencies.
Human rights groups have expressed concern that the Cuban government imposes repressive rules on physicians working abroad, citing the right to privacy, freedom, and freedom of expression and association.
At the start of the Covid-19 explosion, Cuba was estimated to have 24,500 medical personnel working in 58 countries. Another 4,000 members of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade, a group of highly respected health professionals, have gone to work in locations from Kuwait to Mexico, Italy to South Africa.
Cuban doctors during a welcoming ceremony for Cuban health workers who settled in 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 through Getty Images
It is a deeply rooted tradition that means that the country with just over 11 million people is thought to have more medical staff working abroad than all the G-7 countries combined.
“This is an extraordinary record, largely unknown to mainstream media one of the best kept secrets in the world,” John Kirk, a professor in the Latin American program at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, told CNBC.
“Medical internationalism is in Cuban DNA, and in fact the preamble to the Cuban constitution mentions the commitment that Cuba should share its medical talent with developing countries,” he added.
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