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Why Cuba’s extraordinary Covid vaccine success could provide the best hope for the global south


At Jose Marti International Airport in Havana on January 7, 2022 workers transport an shipment of Cuban Soberana Plus vaccination against COVID-19. This vaccine was donated by Cuba to Syria.

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Cuba has been able to vaccinate a larger percentage of its citizens against Covid-19, than nearly all other richest and largest countries. Only the United Arab Emirates, which is oil-rich, has a better vaccination record.

This milestone was achieved by the tiny Communist-run Caribbean island by producing its own Covid vaccineEven though it is struggling to stock supermarket shelves amid decades-old U.S. Trade Embargo,

Helen Yaffe from the University of Glasgow in Scotland is a Cuba expert who spoke to CNBC over telephone. She called it “an incredible feat”.

Biotech is not something that has just happened. Those who have been studying it for a while know this. This is the result of conscious state policy in investing in this sector in public health as well as in medical science.”

According to statistics, 86% have received three doses of Covid vaccine and an additional 7% were partially inoculated. compiledOur World in Data.

The figures are for children under two years old who were vaccinated several months ago. In an effort to stop the transmission of highly transmissible Omicron Covid variant, the country’s health officials are distributing booster shots this month to all citizens.

It is home to approximately 11 million Covid-producing citizens.

John Kirk, professor of Latin America at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada told CNBC by telephone that “just the sheer audacity this tiny country to produce its vaccines and vaccinating 90% is an extraordinary thing.”

It is evident that the Cuban vaccination program represents the best chance for many people in the global south to be vaccinated before 2025.

Helen Yaffe

Professor in the University of Glasgow’s economic and socio-historical history department.

Cuba’s prestigious biotech sector has developed five different Covid vaccines, including Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus — all of which Cuba says provide upwards of 90% protection against symptomatic Covid when three doses are administered.

Cuba has not yet submitted its vaccine trial data for international peer review. However, the country has had two virtual information exchanges with the World Health Organization. to start the Emergency Use Listing process.

Contrary to U.S. Pharma giants PfizerAnd Moderna, which use mRNA technology, all of Cuba’s vaccines are subunit protein vaccines — like the Novavax vaccine. These vaccines are cost-effective and can be made at large scale, so they don’t need deep freezing, an important feature for low-income nations.

The shots have been hailed by international health professionals as an opportunity for hope for the global South, especially given the low rates of vaccination. Therefore, 70% of European Union residents have been fully immunized. less than 10%A majority of Africans have had their vaccines administered.

This would require the WHO to approve Cuban vaccines in order for this goal to become a reality. Cuban health officials claim that the WHO’s process of vetting involves the assessment of the manufacturing facilities used to develop the vaccines.

Vicente Verez from Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute said last month to Reuters that the U.N. had been assessing Cuba’s production facilities in order to determine if they are up to a “first class standard.” This was despite the cost-intensive process of upgrading the facility to such a level.

Verez stated previously that all necessary data and documents would be sent to the WHO by the end of the first quarter 2022. The WHO approval would be a significant step in making these shots accessible around the globe.

‘Enormous significance’

Yaffe answered a question about what the approval of Cuba’s Covid vaccines by the WHO would mean to low-income countries. “I think it is obvious that many countries and people in the global south view the Cuban vaccine, as their best chance for being vaccinated prior 2025,” Yaffe stated.

“And it actually affects us all because we see with the omicron variation that when large populations don’t have coverage, mutations and new varieties develop and they then come back to haunt advanced capitalist nations that have been hoarding vaccinations,” she said.

One man walks along a Havana Street wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was Oct. 2, 2021.

Joaquin Hernandez | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

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 proposalThis vaccine was created to improve the production of Covid in general.

WHO, medical experts, trade unions and civil society groups have repeatedly stressed the need to waive certain intellectual property rights in the face of the pandemic.

A lack of vaccination hesitancy

On Jan. 11, Cuba’s average daily Covid case count rose to 2,063 per day, an increase of almost 10 percent since December. This is due to the spread of the omicron variant.

This comes at a time when the number of cases of omicron Covid is on the rise in Americas. Pan American Health Organization (WHO’s regional Americas branch) has expressed concern that a rising number of cases could lead to an increase in deaths and hospitalizations in the weeks ahead.

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 is a long-time believer in Cuba’s ability for one of world’s best vaccine records. Speaking to CNBC in February last year — before the country had even developed a homegrown vaccine — she said she could “guarantee” Cuba could administer its Covid vaccine very fast.

Yaffe claimed that it wasn’t speculation. It was built on an understanding of their public healthcare system and its structure. They have nurse clinics and family doctors in each neighborhood.

A dose of Soberana 2 is being administered to the students, who will be accompanied their mother. The vaccine was created in Cuba and developed at Bolivar education center in Caracas.

Pedro Rances Mattey | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

This allows health officials to quickly provide vaccines for the population of an island, as many clinics are situated in rural or difficult-to reach areas.

Yaffe added that there is no vaccine hesitancy in these countries.