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Covid: Cuban vaccines, a glimmer of hope in Latin America

Publicado em 02 julho 2021

Cuba is preparing to give the green light in the coming days to one of its vaccines against the coronavirus, the first designed in Latin America: a beacon of hope for the region, faced with a new wave of the pandemic.

Its most advanced candidate, Abdala, is 92.28% effective against the risk of catching the Covid, Cuban scientists proudly announced. The only thing missing is the authorization for emergency use of Cecmed, the national drug regulatory authority, which would be imminent.

After Abdala, Cuba has four other candidates, including Soberana 2, whose partial efficacy results (62% after two of the three doses) make researchers confident about an upcoming authorization. Such a deployment, for a poor country plagued by food and drug shortages, is surprising. But “it is the confirmation of this experience that scientific institutions (Cuban) have in the development of vaccines, which dates back 30 years,” said José Moya, representative in Cuba of the World Health Organization (WHO). .

Limited by the US embargo, the island covers, with its own vaccines, 80% of its program immunization. And these “are used in 35 countries around the world”, recently recalled Eduardo Martinez, president of the state pharmaceutical group BioCubaFarma.

Rise of cases

With the green light from Cecmed, “the Cuban authorities will be able to launch a vaccination campaign against the Covid throughout the national territory”, explains José Moya. In reality, Cuba has already been vaccinating since May, as part of a public health intervention reserved for the most affected areas, mainly Havana. But, if the contagion figures have fallen in the capital, they are increasing alarmingly in the rest of the country of 11.2 million inhabitants, with a total of 193,945 cases.

The approval of a first Cuban vaccine is also welcome for the region, faced with an increase in cases and lack of vaccines. Brazil broke last week a new record of infections (115,228 in 24 hours), while Colombia crossed the threshold of 100,000 deaths. Peru is the country in the world with the highest number of deaths in relation to its population.

“The serious problem that we have and continue to have in our region is precisely the availability of vaccines”, emphasizes José Moya. “ All of our countries have started to vaccinate, but we are moving slowly “.” There were difficulties in distributing vaccines equitably “, adds Amilcar Pérez-Riverol, Cuban post-doctoral researcher of the FAPESP Foundation, at the State University of Sao Paulo (Brazil).” So we have countries where nearly 60% of the population is already fully vaccinated (…) while in others, less than 5% has received a dose “.

International appetite

The advantage of Cuban vaccines, based on a recombinant protein, is that “they can be stored between 2 and 8 degrees, an advantage in Latin America where unfortunately high refrigeration (necessary for other vaccines, note) is difficult” , underlines the scientist, who hopes to see published soon “as much data as possible” to support the announced figures of effectiveness. They therefore already arouse a international appetite: Cuba claims to be in contact with “more than 30 countries”.

The most in a hurry seem to be the political allies: Venezuela has signed an agreement for 12 million doses of Abdala, Iran has just approved the emergency use of Soberana 2 – after having tested it on its territory -, the Argentinian Minister of Health came on the island in May, Vietnam and Mexico are also interested. A green light from the WHO is not necessary for these bilateral agreements.

“As always, we Cubans help our neighbor,” said Idalmis del Rio, a 52-year-old housewife in Havana, who came to accompany her mother to be vaccinated. “This is not what other countries in the world are doing, which have more possibilities than us!” Help yes, but also to replenish the country’s coffers a little, which is facing its worst economic crisis in 30 years. “I think so, (the sale of vaccines abroad) represents a source of income,” said economist Omar Everleny Pérez, of the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue. But “it will be higher or lower depending on the speed with which Cuba will first manage to vaccinate its entire population”, the target set for the end of 2021, before exporting doses.

Its most advanced candidate, Abdala, is 92.28% effective against the risk of catching Covid, Cuban scientists proudly announced. All that is missing is the authorization for emergency use of Cecmed, the national drug regulatory authority, which would be imminent.After Abdala, Cuba has four other candidates, including Soberana 2, whose partial efficacy results ( 62% after two of the three doses) make researchers confident about an upcoming authorization. Such a deployment, for a poor country plagued by food and drug shortages, is surprising. But “it is the confirmation of this experience that scientific institutions (Cuban) have in the development of vaccines, which dates back 30 years,” said José Moya, representative in Cuba of the World Health Organization (WHO). Limited by the American embargo, the island covers, with its own vaccines, 80% of its immunization program. And these “are used in 35 countries around the world”, recently recalled Eduardo Martinez, president of the state pharmaceutical group BioCubaFarma. With the green light from Cecmed, “the Cuban authorities will be able to launch a vaccination campaign against the Covid on the whole national territory “, explains José Moya. In fact, Cuba has already been vaccinating since May, as part of a public health intervention reserved for the most affected areas, mainly Havana. But, if the contagion figures have fallen in the capital, they are increasing alarmingly in the rest of the country by 11.2 million inhabitants, with a total of 193,945 cases. The approval of a first Cuban vaccine is also welcome. for the region, faced with an increase in cases and lack of vaccines. Brazil broke last week a new record of infections (115,228 in 24 hours), while Colombia crossed the threshold of 100,000 deaths. Peru is the country in the world with the highest number of deaths in relation to its population. “The serious problem that we have and continue to have in our region is precisely the availability of vaccines”, emphasizes José Moya. “All our countries have started to vaccinate, but we are moving slowly.” “There have been difficulties in distributing vaccines equitably”, adds Amilcar Pérez-Riverol, Cuban post-doctoral researcher of the FAPESP Foundation, at the State University of Sao Paulo (Brazil). “So we have countries where nearly 60% of the population is already fully vaccinated (…) while in others, less than 5% has received a dose.” The interest of Cuban vaccines, based on a recombinant protein, is that “they can be stored between 2 and 8 degrees, an advantage in Latin America where unfortunately high refrigeration (necessary for other vaccines, note) is difficult”, underlines the scientist, who hopes to see published soon “as much data as possible” to support the announced efficiency figures. They are therefore already arousing an international appetite: Cuba claims to be in contact with “more than 30 countries.” The most in a hurry seem to be the political allies: Venezuela has signed an agreement for 12 million doses of Abdala, Iran has just arrived. ‘to approve the emergency use of Soberana 2 – after having tested it on its territory -, the Argentinian Minister of Health came to the island in May, Vietnam and Mexico are also interested. A green light from the WHO is not necessary for these bilateral agreements. “As always, we Cubans help our neighbor”, assures, in Havana, Idalmis del Rio, a 52-year-old housewife who came to accompany her mother. to get vaccinated. “This is not what other countries in the world are doing, which have more possibilities than us!” Help yes, but also to bail out the country, which is facing its worst economic crisis in 30 years. “I think so, (the sale of vaccines abroad) represents a source of income,” said economist Omar Everleny Pérez, of the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue. But “it will be higher or lower depending on the speed with which Cuba will first manage to vaccinate its entire population”, the target set for the end of 2021, before exporting doses.

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