A man stands near a Cuban national flag at the Melia Varadero International hotel in Matanzas province on October 23, 2020. Varadero, Cuba’s most important resort, reopens to international tourism amid the pandemic coronavirus.
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Cuba’s most advanced Covid-19 vaccine candidate is set to enter late clinical trials next week, pushing the small island nation closer and closer to an extraordinary medical achievement that analysts say will have far-reaching consequences throughout the south of the globe.
Cuba’s most promising vaccine candidate, of the four it has in development, is called Soberana 02. The vaccine’s name translates from Spanish to “Sovereign,” a conspicuous nod to Cuba’s sense of national pride in its world-renowned health system.
Soberana 02 is due to enter phase 3 trials from March 1, and officials say the tests will include up to 150,000 volunteers in a few weeks. Phase 3 trials represent the last step before a vaccine is generally approved by national regulators.
It comes at a time when many people in Cuba are forced to stand in line for hours to buy basic goods and as authorities continue to navigate a decades-old US trade embargo – with even tougher penalties. in recent years by former President Donald Trump.
“It’s just this incredible dichotomy,” Helen Yaffe, Cuban expert and lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, told CNBC by phone.
“On the one hand, you have this high tech biotechnology sector that brings a lot of hope to the south of the world because it is the possibility of an affordable vaccine – (and) the vaccination of the south of the globe will be the priority,” Yaffe said.
“And at the same time, Cubans get up at four or five in the morning to queue because there is a real shortage of basic food and even medicine.”
Cuba’s Finlay Institute, the country’s leading biopharmaceutical institution, oversees the development of Soberana 02. Institute director Dr Vicente Verez has hinted that the vaccine could be made available to tourists later this year .
If Soberana 02 is found to be safe and effective, the development of a locally produced vaccine will likely be hailed as an astonishing scientific breakthrough and a significant political triumph. It would also see Cuba become the first country in Latin America to immunize its population with a vaccine produced in the country.
Technician Mayelin Mejias works at the aseptic processing and vaccine packaging plant at the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, January 20, 2021.
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The government has yet to come up with specific plans to vaccinate tourists, but analysts say foreigners traveling to Cuba may be able to receive their first dose of the vaccine on the island before receiving subsequent take-home doses. at their 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 Survived in a Post-Soviet World,” said Cuba’s sophisticated health-care system would help the country roll out the vaccine “extremely “quickly.
“I can guarantee you that. And if they have a vaccine every two weeks, then within a month of starting people could be vaccinated,” Yaffe said.
“By the summer, people will be desperate to go on vacation and I think Cuba presents itself as an ideal destination. We are already talking about sun, sea, sand and Soberana 02. So I wouldn’t be surprised if people end up going to Cuba to get the vaccine and I’m sure the Cubans will offer it. “
The Soberana 02 vaccine is a conjugate vaccine. This is a type of vaccine that contains part of the spike protein that binds, or conjugates, with human cells to make it more stable and effective.
Unlike other coronavirus vaccine candidates, such as Pfizer-BioNTech among others, Soberana 02 does not require additional refrigeration requirements. This will likely simplify the logistical and administrative challenges associated with immunization programs in low-income countries.
People line up to buy food in Havana on February 2, 2021, as cases of Covid-19 increase in the island country.
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During a virtual session hosted by the Pan American Health Organization February 5Dr Verez said Soberana 02 returned “encouraging results” during the early stages of testing. He added that the vaccination had not yet generated significant side effects.
The Cuban government has mentionned this year it will produce 100 million doses of Soberana 02 to meet the demands of its own citizens as well as those of 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 countries started giving injections 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 recorded relatively few cases of Covid compared to other countries in the region, has seen a sharp rise in infections and deaths in recent weeks. To date, Cuba has recorded 45,361 coronavirus cases and 300 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Cuba has long been known for its medical diplomacy, with thousands of specialists sent abroad to help countries cope with short-term crises, natural disasters and medical emergencies.
Human rights groups expressed concern that the Cuban government impose repressive rules on doctors working abroad, invoking the right to privacy, liberty and freedom of expression and association.
At the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, an estimated 24,500 medical personnel in Cuba were working in 58 countries. In addition, 4,000 other members of the Henry Reeve Brigade of Cuba, a group of highly respected medical professionals, have gone to work in countries ranging from Kuwait to Mexico, Italy to South Africa.
Cuban medics at a welcoming ceremony for Cuban health workers who have been deployed to the Western Cape to support efforts to fight COVID-19 on May 24, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Misha Jordaan | Gallo Images via Getty Images
It’s a deeply rooted tradition that means the country of just over 11 million people would have more medical personnel working overseas than all the G-7 countries combined.
“This is an extraordinary record, mostly unknown to the mainstream media – one of the world’s best-kept secrets,” John Kirk, professor in the Latin America program at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, told Canada, to CNBC by email.
“Medical internationalism is in Cuban DNA, and in fact the preamble to the Cuban constitution mentions Cuba’s commitment to share its medical talent with developing countries,” he added.