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February 27, 2021

Cuba to go it alone with ‘sovereign’ COVID-19 vaccine 

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Posted: Saturday, February 27, 2021. 12:43 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Cuban researchers are busy producing its own COVID-19 vaccine, Soberana (“Sovereign” in Spanish) 2, through the Finlay Institute of Vaccines in Havana, the BBC’s Will Grant reports. 

Soberana 2 is a conjugate vaccine – meaning an antigen is fused to a carrier molecule to bolster the vaccine’s stability and effectiveness. Within weeks, it will be tested on tens of thousands of volunteers. 

FIV director Dr. Vicente Vérez Bencomo called results from the first clinical trials “encouraging and very important,” and hopes they set the stage to immunize all of Cuba’s population of 11.3 million by the end of the year. The country hopes to produce up to 100 million doses through 2021, an ambitious goal but a realistic one as Cuba has more than 30 years of experience in biotechnology and immunology. 

Late former president, Fidel Castro, opened the Institute in the late 1980s as a way around the U.S. embargo that, among other things, effectively bars Cuba from access to patents from U.S. pharmacological companies. 

While the Americans will almost certainly not be involved with production capacity even if the hand of friendship is extended by President Joe Biden, Cuba does need international assistance. 

“Our main contacts are with Europe and Canada and we have people participating from Italy and from France,” Dr. Vérez explained, adding that he hopes American participation is eventually possible. 

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), among others, are rooting for Cuba to succeed, and the stakes have never been higher. 

Cuba is recording more than a thousand confirmed cases per day for the first time in the pandemic, serious enough to place additional strain on Cuba’s creaking healthcare system. 

After initially containing the outbreak through an aggressive public information campaign and the closure of its airports, cases have begun to creep up again, though not enough to worry PAHO officials. 

More concerning is the economic impact, with a downturn in tourism costing 11 percent of contraction in the gross domestic product, and long lines forming every day outside food shops and supermarkets as people queue for basic goods. 

The government has chosen this moment to implement a number of overdue reforms, from the unification of Cuba’s tangled dual currency system to some liberalization of self-employment licenses. 

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