Cuba and COVID

Published February 11, 2021, 12:48 AM

by Gemma Cruz Araneta

LANDSCAPE

Gemma Cruz Araneta

Historically speaking, Cuba is our sister republic. Both of us were colonies of Spain and launched our anti-colonial movements at the same time. In fact, Jose Rizal and Antonio Luna wrote to each other about the Cuban revolution; Rizal observed that the Cayo Hueso (Key West) was where the Cuban revolutionaries would regroup. From Dapitan, he asked to be sent to Cuba as a medic, but the hidden agenda was for him to study the Cuban revolution. Enviably, Cuba has now achieved another milestone; it has developed four anti-COVID vaccines. If they were alive today, Dr. Rizal and Pharmacist Luna would have rushed to Cuba, despite the gnarly US blockade.

According to the scientists of Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute, they now have two vaccines against COVID-19 — Sovereign I and Sovereign II. (Take note that in a place like Cuba, nomenclature is not accidental, names are charged with meaning.) Sovereign I which has already been rigorously tested aims to determine the optimal level of antigen strength that will protect those previously infected with COVID-19. There are cases where the antibody levels of these people have turned out to be low, so Sovereign I is expected to provide a boost.

As for Sovereign II, its trial phase sort of hit a snag; there were not enough people in Cuba for the tests and trials because their public health system is so effective, there are very few of them in danger of getting COVID. These trials require tens of thousands of subjects to verify its protective power; one half should receive the vaccine and the other half, a placebo vaccine. As a result, Sovereign II will be tested in Iran. A hundred million doses of Sovereign II are being prepared; 70 million will be sent to Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, India, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.

The ultimate objective of the institute is to produce four vaccines to save Cuban lives, needless to say, and to help members of the international family of nations. As you know, Cuba, a country that has been subjected to an economic embargo imposed by the USA, is big on international solidarity. It is the only vaccine manufacturer in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The government aims to vaccinate all of its 11.3-million population (2019 census) by April of the current year. However, Dr. Dagmar García-Rivera, director of research at the Finlay Vaccine Institute, said: “In Cuba, we don’t have all the raw materials and supplies we’ll need for the unprecedented scale of production that vaccinating our whole population requires…; [these materials] have to be purchased and we need financing. This is made infinitely more difficult by the US embargo. Procuring the necessary reagents for research and the raw materials for production is a challenge we face every day.”

In addressing the pandemic, the government is meticulous about details. It has set up a website – cubadebate.cu – that provides daily, updates of COVID’S impact in provinces, towns, and cities, and the entire world. For example, last 27 January, the website reported that there were 43 patients in intensive care that day, 16 of whom were in critical condition, while 27 were in a “grave” state.

Dr. Vicente Vérez Bencomo, also of the Finlay Vaccine Institute, said in an interview: “We are not a multinational where a financial objective comes first…. Cuba’s strategy in commercializing the vaccine represents a combination of what’s good for humankind and the impact on world health.” Readers can be sure that revenue generated from vaccine sales abroad will be used to pay for health care, education, and pensions in Cuba.

The Center for Genetic and Biotechnological Engineering is developing two other COVID-19 vaccines – the “Mambisa” (name of female fighters during Cuba’s revolution against Spain) and the “Abdala” (muse in a poem by José Marti, the Cuban Rizal). “Mambisa,” is administered via the nasal route and “Abdala” intramuscularly. In his recent article about the vaccines, Mr. W.T. Whitney Jr., an American political journalist focused on health care, signaled that Cuban scientists used only a segment of the virus’ protein – here the COVID-19 virus – to form the antigen that stimulates protective antibodies. The proteins do not contain “genetic instructions” which enter human cells. Moreover, the Cuban vaccines do not require extremely cold storage and are suitable for areas with inadequate refrigeration facilities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a global vaccine collaboration, COVAX, to assure access by poor nations to COVID-19 vaccines. The 190 nations that are enrolled agreed to obtain vaccines through COVAX; rich countries are supposed to fund COVAX so it can send 90 poor nations free vaccines. COVAX aims to distribute two billion doses, enough to immunize at least 25% of the populations of poor nations during 2021.

Sadly, theCOVAX plan will be gored by certain countries and companies that are driving up prices and making their own bilateral deals. They should emulate Cuba instead.

([email protected]) gemmacruzaraneta.com

 
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