Like many other things in Cuba, while “some of the equipment at the Finlay Institute of Vaccines in Havana might be considered outdated elsewhere in the world, the science taking place behind its white-washed walls is cutting edge,” says a BBC story on the making of the Cuban vaccine.
Researchers are working long shifts on Cuba's best shot to solve its coronavirus crisis: Soberana 2, the island's domestically-produced Covid-19 vaccine,” the BBC says. “Soberana (Spanish for "sovereign") 2 is a conjugate vaccine - meaning an antigen is fused to a carrier molecule to bolster the vaccine's stability and effectiveness.”
The government of Cuba is now set to deliver the first million doses of its home grown and manufactured Soberana 02 COVID-19 vaccine candidate by late April.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Assistant Director, Dr Jarbas Barbosa, said information received indicates that the Cuban vaccine's development will shortly enter the third and final stage of clinical trials in Cuba.
Speaking during PAHO's COVID-19 digital briefing on February 24, he cautioned, however, that no timeline could be determined for the completion of the process, “as the [third] phase takes the longest.”
President of BioCubaFarma research center Eduardo Martinez, said "Cuban vaccines are going well," and Cuba, the only Latin American country developing COVID-19 vaccine candidates, expects to produce 100 million doses of its Soberana 02 this year, one of the four experimental coronavirus vaccines under development by the country’s biopharmaceutical authorities. They are: Soberana 01, Soberana 02, Mambisa and Abdala.
Local vaccine candidates are developed by experts from Havana's Finlay Institute of Vaccines (IFV) and the city's Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB).
Finlay's Soberana 01 and Soberana 02 have shown a high immune response against the virus during clinical studies, IFV Director General Vicente Verez Bencomo said, pointing out that "Soberana 02 is due to begin the third phase of clinical trials in March involving some 42,600 participants."
The results from the first clinical trials were "encouraging" and "very important", says the institute's director, Dr Vicente Vérez Bencomo, who noted that "Our plan is to, of course, first immunise our population," he explained at a news conference.
"Moving to commercial production of Soberana 2, we're planning to have in the order of 100 million doses during 2021 and we will dedicate an important part of these doses to the full immunisation of the country."
However, it remains beyond the island's production capacity to make 100 million doses of the vaccine without some form of international assistance, and speculations are that China will assist in that production.
A viable vaccine coupled with an immunized population would allow the island to reopen its borders to tourism and other trades sooner than most, Soberana 2 would also generate some much-needed income if exported around the region.
Cuba’s CARICOM colleagues while being wary of United States sanctions are wide open to purchasing the Cuban vaccine which is being anxiously awaited by the Caribbean population who for the most part, trust the Cubans to make a vaccine in which they have faith and which will work for them.
At Its recent heads of government meeting, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) said it was dissatisfied and deeply concerned about the inequitable access to vaccines for Small Developing States like those of the Community.
CARICOM called for equitable access to vaccines in order to curb the impact of the pandemic, to protect our citizens and bolster the economy. As the virus does not discriminate, access to vaccines should not be discriminatory, with a few countries dominating the market with their resources and their volumes. Heads of Government noted that to date, even countries with the funds to purchase, have been unable to procure and receive vaccines through commercial arrangements, given the relatively small volumes which they seek.
Hence, the provision of an approved vaccine by the government of Cuba, would not only alleviate the island's health crisis but would also alleviate its dire economic plight occasioned by the US economic blockade.
The other Coronavirus vaccines being developed by Cuba, are following close behind the Soberana 2. The Abdala candidate has started the second phase of clinical trials as Mambisa continues assessing the immune response generated from the doses administered to volunteers.
Vaccine candidates developed by Cuban scientific institutions also assess immune response to new COVID-19 strains found in South Africa, Britain, Brazil and the United States.
"We are abiding by good practices in keeping with international regulations and standards," said CIGB Director General Marta Ayala.
First established in the 1980s, the Cuban biotech industry has exported vaccines to more than 40 countries, including shots against meningitis, hepatitis B and lung cancer.
Cuba's national vaccination program includes 11 vaccines against 13 diseases, eight of which are produced in the Caribbean nation.
Eduardo Ojito, director general at Cuba's Center of Molecular Immunology, said U.S. economic sanctions against the island have forced local scientists to be more resourceful in developing coronavirus vaccines.
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