As other developing countries compete with richer nations for a limited supply of doses, Cuba has gambled everything on producing its own vaccines, as much an exercise of national pride as it is a response to a health crisis. public.
Two of the vaccines are named Soberana – Spanish for sovereignty. The other two are called Abdala, the name of a poem written by Cuban revolutionary icon Jose Marti, and Mambisa, referring to the Cuban guerrillas who waged a bloody war for freedom against the Spaniards.
February was the deadliest month yet for the Caribbean nation with 108 deaths and 7,642 new cases, according to Cuban government statistics.
“The main objective of this clinical trial is to show the clinical efficacy of our vaccine candidate,” said Dagmar Garcia Rivera, researcher at the government-run Finlay Institute for Vaccines. “After that, we might be in conditions to start mass vaccination in Cuba and some other countries around the world.”
With the third trial of Soberana-02, Cuban doctors say that from March they will vaccinate 44,000 trial participants in Cuba. Researchers told CNN they have already manufactured more than 300,000 doses of the vaccine and will increase production in the hopes that trials will show Soberana-02 to be safe and effective.
Abroad, Iran has already started large-scale trials of Soberana-02, and Mexico is in talks with Cuba to begin trials soon. Suriname and Ghana are reportedly interested in purchasing Cuban vaccines when the drugs are ready.
Rafael Hernandez, 73, participated in the second vaccine trial and said the side effects were mild.
“Before applying the first dose, the doctor told me that they had not recorded, among the hundreds of vaccinated patients, a single side effect, beyond a slight pain, a rise in temperature. , stiffness in the vaccinated arm, fever or mild discomfort, “Hernandez told CNN.
Cuba’s most tested vaccine candidate, Soberana 02, is a conjugate vaccine that transports part of the virus spike protein, binding it to human cells.
Researchers will not know how effective the vaccine will be until they complete Phase 3 trials and are currently investigating whether vaccination with Soberana 02 will require giving patients three doses of the vaccine.
“We need a lot of vaccines to immunize 11 million Cubans. If we estimate that Cubans will need one or two or three doses, we estimate that Cuba will need 30 million doses,” said Dr Tania Crombet. Ramos, director of the government. -run Center for Molecular Immunology in Havana.
Crombet said she was confident Cuba would end up with more than one approved vaccine, which would give the island more flexibility to fight the pandemic.
“I think at the end of the day we might be able to implement what we call ‘prime and boost’,” she said, “which uses certain vaccines for the first dose and the booster and the reimmunization. ”
In addition to completing its vaccine trials, Cuba has yet to show that it can handle the massive ramp-up of production that will be needed to manufacture tens of millions of doses.
This would be no small feat for any country, but a particularly disheartening feat for an island where the economy has been battered by the pandemic and increased US sanctions under the Trump administration. Many Cubans are currently struggling to find basic pain relievers and antibiotics, let alone an advanced vaccine.
Nonetheless, Cuban health officials have said they plan to vaccinate the entire population of the island by the end of the year and may even sell or give extra doses abroad or even market ‘ ‘vaccination holiday’ to help the hard-hit tourism industry bounce back.
“We have a production capacity for millions of doses of vaccine,” Garcia said. “Probably more vaccines than Cuba needs. At some point we will have a vaccine or a certain level of doses available for other countries around the world.”
Dr Jose Moya, a Havana-based Peruvian health expert for the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization, said he was encouraged that Cuban vaccine researchers are getting together. complied with international protocols and provided updates on their progress.
“We are closely monitoring these results first because the Cuban population will directly benefit from their candidate vaccines and this could at some point control transmission in the country,” Moya said. “The fact that Cuba has four candidate vaccines is very good news not only for Cuba, but also for the Caribbean and Latin America.”