Why Cuba’s extraordinary Covid vaccine success might present the…

Why Cuba's extraordinary Covid vaccine success could provide the...

Staff transport a cargo of the Cuban Soberana Plus vaccine towards the novel coronavirus illness, COVID-19, to be donated by the Cuban authorities to Syria, at Jose Marti Worldwide Airport in Havana, on January 7, 2022.

YAMIL LAGE | AFP | Getty Photos

Cuba has vaccinated a better share of its inhabitants towards Covid-19 than nearly all of the world’s largest and richest nations. The truth is, solely the oil-rich United Arab Emirates boasts a stronger vaccination report.

The tiny Communist-run Caribbean island has achieved this milestone by producing its personal Covid vaccine, even because it struggles to maintain grocery store cabinets stocked amid a decades-old U.S. commerce embargo.

“It’s an unbelievable feat,” Helen Yaffe, a Cuba professional and lecturer in financial and social historical past on the College of Glasgow, Scotland, instructed CNBC through phone.

“These of us who’ve studied biotech aren’t stunned in that sense, as a result of it has not simply come out of the blue. It’s the product of a acutely aware authorities coverage of state funding within the sector, in each public well being and in medical science.”

Thus far, round 86% of the Cuban inhabitants has been absolutely vaccinated towards Covid with three doses, and one other 7% have been partly inoculated towards the illness, in accordance with official statistics compiled by Our World in Information.

These figures embrace youngsters from the age of two, who started receiving the vaccine a number of months in the past. The nation’s well being authorities are rolling out booster pictures to the complete inhabitants this month in a bid to restrict the unfold of the extremely transmissible omicron Covid variant.

The nation of roughly 11 million stays the one nation in Latin America and the Caribbean to have produced a homegrown shot for Covid.

“Simply the sheer audacity of this tiny little nation to provide its personal vaccines and vaccinating 90% of its inhabitants is a rare factor,” John Kirk, professor emeritus on the Latin America program of Dalhousie College in Nova Scotia, Canada, instructed CNBC through phone.

I feel it’s clear that many international locations and populations within the international south see the Cuban vaccine as their finest hope for getting vaccinated by 2025.

Helen Yaffe

Lecturer in financial and social historical past on the College of Glasgow,

Cuba’s prestigious biotech sector has developed 5 completely different Covid vaccines, together with Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus — all of which Cuba says present upwards of 90% safety towards symptomatic Covid when three doses are administered.

Cuba’s vaccine scientific trial information has but to bear worldwide scientific peer assessment, though the nation has engaged in two digital exchanges of knowledge with the World Well being Group to provoke the Emergency Use Itemizing course of for its vaccines.

In contrast to U.S. pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna, which use mRNA expertise, all of Cuba’s vaccines are subunit protein vaccines — just like the Novavax vaccine. Crucially for low-income international locations, they’re low-cost to provide, will be manufactured at scale and don’t require deep freezing.

It has prompted worldwide well being officers to tout the pictures as a possible supply of hope for the worldwide south, notably as low vaccination charges persist. As an example, whereas round 70% of individuals within the European Union have been absolutely vaccinated, less than 10% of the African inhabitants have been absolutely vaccinated.

For this to hope to be realized, nonetheless, the WHO would doubtless need to approve Cuba’s vaccines. The WHO’s vetting course of entails assessing the manufacturing amenities the place the vaccines are developed, some extent which Cuba’s well being officers say has slowed progress.

Vicente Verez, head of Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute, instructed Reuters final month that the U.N. well being company was assessing Cuba’s manufacturing amenities to a “first-world normal,” citing the pricey course of in upgrading theirs to that degree.

Verez has stated beforehand that the mandatory paperwork and information can be submitted to the WHO within the first quarter of 2022. Approval from the WHO can be an essential step to creating the pictures out there all through the world.

‘Huge significance’

When requested what it will imply for low-income international locations ought to the WHO approve Cuba’s Covid vaccines, Yaffe stated: “I feel it’s clear that many international locations and populations within the international south see the Cuban vaccine as their finest hope for getting vaccinated by 2025.”

“And truly, it impacts all of us as a result of what we’re seeing with the omicron variant is that what occurs when huge populations have nearly no protection is that you’ve mutations and new variants creating after which they arrive again to hang-out the superior capitalist international locations which have been hoarding vaccines,” she added.

A person wears a face masks as he walks down a road amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Havana, Cuba, Oct. 2, 2021.

Joaquin Hernandez | Xinhua Information Company | Getty Photos

Kirk agreed that the WHO’s potential approval of Cuba’s nationally produced Covid vaccines would carry “monumental significance” for the worldwide south.

“One factor that’s essential to keep in mind is that the vaccines do not require the ultra-low temperatures which Pfizer and Moderna want so there are locations, in Africa particularly, the place you do not have the flexibility to retailer these international north vaccines,” Kirk stated.

He additionally identified that Cuba, not like different international locations or pharmaceutical firms, had provided to have interaction within the switch of expertise to share its vaccine manufacturing experience with the worldwide south.

“The target of Cuba is to not make a quick buck, not like the multinational drug firms, however slightly to maintain the planet wholesome. So, sure making an sincere revenue however not an exorbitant revenue as among the multinationals would make,” Kirk stated.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned final month {that a} “tsunami” of Covid instances pushed by the omicron variant was “so enormous and so fast” that it had overwhelmed well being techniques worldwide.

Tedros repeated his name for better vaccine distribution to assist low-income international locations vaccinate their populations, with greater than 100 international locations on track to miss the U.N. health agency’s target for 70% of the world to be fully vaccinated by July.

The WHO said last year that the world was likely to have enough Covid vaccine doses in 2022 to fully inoculate the entire global adult population — providing high-income countries did not hoard vaccines to use in booster programs.

Alongside pharmaceutical industry trade associations, a number of Western countries — such as Canada, the U.K. and Japan — are among those actively blocking a patent-waiver proposal designed to boost the global production of Covid vaccines.

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

An absence of vaccine hesitancy

The seven-day average of daily Covid cases in Cuba climbed to 2,063 as of Jan. 11, reflecting an almost 10-fold increase since the end of December as the omicron variant spreads.

It comes as the number of omicron Covid cases surges across countries and territories in the Americas region. The Pan American Health Organization, the WHO’s regional Americas office, has warned a rise in cases may lead to an uptick in hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks.

PAHO has called on countries to accelerate vaccination coverage to reduce Covid transmission and has repeated its recommendation of public health measures such as tight-fitting masks — a mandatory requirement in Cuba.

Yaffe has long been confident in Cuba’s ability to boast one of the world’s strongest vaccination records. Speaking to CNBC in February last year — before the country had even developed a homegrown vaccine — she said she could “guarantee” that Cuba would be able to administer its domestically produced Covid vaccine extremely quickly.

“It wasn’t conjecture,” Yaffe said. “It was based on understanding their public health care system and the structure of it. So, the fact that they have what they call family doctor and nurse clinics in every neighborhood.”

Students, who are accompanied by their mother, are being vaccinated with a dose of the Soberana 2 vaccine against the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, developed in Cuba, at the Bolivar educational center in Caracas, Venezuela on December 13, 2021.

Pedro Rances Mattey | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Many of these clinics are based in rural and hard-to-reach areas and it means health authorities can quickly deliver vaccines to the island’s population.

“The other aspect is they don’t have a movement of vaccine hesitancy, which is something that we are seeing in many countries,” Yaffe said.

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