Despite the unalterable and aggressive US blockade, Cuba has already vaccinated almost 90 percent of its population and offers its immunizers to the rest of the world. In a virtual conference organized by the Progressive International, Cuban health experts and authorities met to denounce a vaccine “apartheid” against which the Caribbean island emerges as a promoter of “internationalism.”
Cuba began to develop its own vaccines in the 1980s, discovering the first against meningitis B, and currently almost 80 percent of the vaccines included in its immunization program are manufactured on the island. The country has a developed pharmaceutical industry that has achieved three vaccines against covid-19, as well as other candidates still in the study phase. None of these formulas have been recognized and included in the list of vaccines of the World Health Organization (WHO)but have received emergency use authorization and are already applied in countries such as Venezuela, Iran or Vietnam.
“This unprecedented health feat in the country and which arouses admiration in other parts of the world has been developed in record time. Vaccines have become a national pride and the scientists and health professionals involved in this process represent heroes for the Cuban popular imagination“, highlighted Ileana Morales SuarezDirector of Scientific and Technological Innovation of the Ministry of Public Health present at the information session.
“A great work of humanity and love”
The general coordinator of the Progressive International, David Adler, put Cuba as an “example that must be replicated” for the national development of its vaccines against the coronavirus. The island has shown itself in this pandemic “as an inspiration” and promoter of “health internationalism,” said Adler, who remarked that “the richest countries in the world have only delivered 14 percent of the vaccines they have promised through the Covax mechanism”.
Cuba has three vaccines against covid-19 that have received emergency use authorization from the national regulatory agency. These are Abdala, Sovereign 02 and Sovereign Plus. Two other vaccine candidates are still in the clinical trial phase: Soberana 01 and Mambisa. Rolando Perez Rodriguez, director of Science and Innovation of the state-owned BioCubaFarma, assured that there are fundamental reasons that explain these results. Among them he highlighted that Cuba made a strong investment in science and technology since the 1980scurrently being able to work “in a portfolio of 101 biopharmaceuticals in development, of which 32 percent are vaccines“.
Pérez Rodríguez also highlighted the “proactive and conscious participation of the population”, which has guaranteed a high level of coverage and a high rate of daily vaccination. On the other hand, the Cuban authority assessed “organizational innovation” based on a triangular model conceived between the industry, the national regulatory agency and the national health system.
Meanwhile, the doctor Morales Suarez stated that “This great work of humanity and love has been possible despite the criminal and intensified blockade of the United Stateswhich represents an atrocious economic siege to which no country should be subjected.” Along these lines, the official from the health portfolio said that Cuba “confirms that The exclusionary approach imposed by the prevailing neoliberalism on the production and acquisition of vaccines must cease” to ensure an equitable and supportive distribution.
Continue working despite the lockdown
In response to a query Page 12, the Cuban authorities recognized that the US embargo has not changed at all after the inauguration of Joe Biden. “If there is a sector that is harshly affected by the blockade, it is health. The blockade is maintained with the same pressure and the same level of negative impact in this administration as in the previous one“, answered categorically Morales Suarez.
For its part, Perez Rodriguez explained that Cuba potentially has the capacity to produce tens of millions of doses of vaccinesbut that capacity is limited by the embargo that has made logistics very difficult: “Due to the blockade, the suppliers with whom we even had delivery agreements, at a given moment they retract, they cannot make the delivery. It is not only the problem of the sale, the financial problem has affected us extraordinarily”.
“Many banks refuse to carry out financial operations that have to do with Cuba“, remarked the director of BioCubaFarma, recognizing that in some cases the Cuban state had to take resources that the country had allocated for other types of products and medicines.
Awaiting WHO approval
Cuba hopes that the WHO will approve “this year” the locally manufactured Abdala vaccine for emergency use, which would facilitate its export. The lack of approval by the international organization “has not been a brake” so that several countries have requested the use of Cuban-made vaccines but, if the approval is achieved, a “faster” job would be guaranteed, Pérez Rodríguez explained. .
The representatives of the Cuban state pharmaceutical complex stressed that the country will also submit to the WHO in the coming days the necessary files for the approval of the Sovereign 02 and Sovereign Plus formulas. The Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus vaccination guidelines are more than 90 percent effectiveaccording to its manufacturers, but these data have not been verified by external bodies.
According to data from the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), Cuba has vaccinated with a complete schedule about 88 percent of its population, one of the highest numbers in the world. Meanwhile, 43.2 percent have already received the booster dose. For a few days, the island has been reporting more than a hundred cases of covid-19 a day, although health authorities say they are in better conditions to face a new wave of the pandemic due to the advancement of vaccination.
The “public biotechnology” model
Pérez Rodríguez stressed that the three Cuban vaccines have already been exported to Iran, Vietnam, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and its shipment is also being negotiated with 15 other nations, all low-income. On this point the Italian researcher Fabrizio Chiodo expressed that “Cuba is not here only to export vaccines or to export solidarity as it has always done, Cuba is here to export an alternative for the economic system, and this alternative for the future is public biotechnology“.
After assessing the quality of Cuban professionals, Chiodo maintained that when it comes to condemning “vaccine injustice,” it is usually “much more easy to say that the big pharmaceutical companies are the bad guy, but in reality we have to say that the bad guy is the economic systemand this is what Cuba has shown to the world”.