Made in Cuba: the Most Advanced Coronavirus Vaccine in Latin America

By Gerardo Szalkowicz on September 5, 2020

If it were not for the unwritten premise of hegemonic journalism that everything good in Cuba is not told, it would be striking that the news has gone practically unnoticed, that currently, the “Soberana 01” vaccine began clinical trials on humans and became the first in Latin America – and of all the badly named “underdeveloped world” – to advance to that second phase.

So far there are 167 potential vaccines registered against Covid-19. The Cuban vaccine joins another 29 that have already been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for clinical studies, six of which are in phase 3 where large-scale human testing takes place. Another dozen vaccines are in development in Latin America but, with the exception of the Cuban vaccine, all those are in the pre-clinical phase.

The vaccine candidate that produced in the island walks at a steady pace. Since the beginning of the clinical trials on August 24th, “there are zero reports of serious adverse events after the injection of the first 20 volunteers”, according to Dagmar Garcia Rivera, research director of the Finlay Institute, the Cuban state scientific center that leads the project. The sample will include 676 people between 19 and 80 years old and the results are expected to be ready on February 1st. In the case of a happy ending, Cuba will have its own vaccine against the coronavirus available for the population in the first quarter of 2021.

“What is normally done in years has been achieved in a little less than three months,” says Vicente Vérez Bencomo, Finlay’s general manager. “In the phase of pharmaceutical development and preclinical studies in animals it presented low risks, few uncertainties and encouraging results”. From those initial indicators, on July 28th, the vaccine was tested in three of its own researchers, who also presented a high immune response.

The fact that Cuba is once again at the forefront in the scientific and health field is the result of a long accumulated experience in preventive medicine, massive immunization and the development of a biotechnological industry of undeniable international prestige. Since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, professional training was promoted from universities and a Scientific Pole was created with the orientation of combining research with production.

The development of vaccines is one of Cuba’s most significant achievements is that it produces eight of the eleven vaccines in its national immunization program, which has a coverage of over 98% of the population and is, of course, free and universal. In 1962, the first vaccination campaign was carried out, making it the first country to eradicate polio. Another milestone was to achieve, in 1990, its own vaccine against Hepatitis-B, marking the virtual disappearance of this disease.

A remarkable fact to note is that the Cuban medical research platform, made up of 32 state enterprises with more than 10,000 workers devoted to the production of medicines and vaccines, is mainly made up of women.

Sovereignty, the Key Word

Achieving a 100% national vaccine in a country with great economic limitations -centrally because of the U.S. blockage- is of vital importance. President Miguel Díaz-Canel  explained the significance of the name Soberana 01.  “The name of the vaccine reflects the feeling of patriotism and the revolutionary and humanist commitment with which we have worked. Feats like these reaffirm our pride in being Cuban”.

The emphasis on preventive medicine has been key to the control of the coronavirus. After almost six months of the pandemic, Cuba has registered a little more than 4,000 infections and only 95 deaths; one of the lowest mortality rates in the world with 8 deaths per million inhabitants (the highest is Peru with 871).

The island’s health education has its universal stronghold in the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), where in 20 years 7,248 doctors from 45 countries graduated, including some 200 Americans.

Perhaps this internationalist solidarity is the main hallmark of the Cuban model. The medical brigades, which have been deployed throughout the world for six decades, have physically put themselves into all sorts of natural disasters and epidemics (from the 1960 earthquake in Chile to Ebola in Africa). Before the pandemic, there were about 30,000 health workers serving in 61 countries, and 46 brigades left this year to collaborate in the fight against Covid-19.

Thinking about all these accomplishments makes the proposal to nominate, the “army of white coasts” –as Fidel Castro called them – for the Nobel Peace Prize not such a crazy idea.

Source: Pagina 12, Translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau

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