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A socialist approach

Cuba’s socialist approach to developing vaccines against Covid-19 differs strikingly from that of capitalist nations of the world. Cuba’s production of four vaccines is grounded in science and dedicated to saving the lives of all Cubans, and to international solidarity.

The New York Times’s running report on the world’s vaccine programs shows 67 vaccines having advanced to human trials; 20 of them are in the final phase of trials or have completed them. The United States, China, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, and India have each produced many vaccines; most vaccine-manufacturing countries are offering one or two vaccines.

Cuba is the only vaccine manufacturer in Latin America; there are none in Africa. The only state-owned entities producing the leading vaccines are those of Cuba and Russia.

Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute has produced two COVID-19 vaccines. Trials for one of them, called Sovereign I, focus on protecting people previously infected with COVID-19. The antibody levels of some of them turned out to be low, and the vaccine might provide a boost.

The other vaccine, Sovereign II, is about to enter final human trials. For verifying protection, these trials require tens of thousands of subjects, one half receiving the vaccine and the other half, a placebo vaccine. Cuba’s population is relatively small, 11 million people, too small to yield enough infected people in the short time required to test the vaccine’s protective effect. That’s why Sovereign II will be tested in Iran.

100 million doses of Sovereign II are being prepared, enough to immunize all 11 million Cubans, beginning in March or April. The 70 million remaining doses will go to Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, India, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. Sovereign II “will be the vaccine of ALBA,” explained Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, referring to the solidarity alliance established in 2004 by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

“Cuba’s strategy in commercializing the vaccine represents a combination of what’s good for humankind and the impact on world health. We are not a multinational where a financial objective comes first,” says Vicente Vérez Bencomo, director of Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute. Income generated by vaccine sales abroad will pay for health care, education, and pensions in Cuba just as happens with exports of medical services and medicines.

Cuba’s Center for Genetic and Biotechnological Engineering is developing two other COVID-19 vaccines; One, named “Mambisa” (signifying a female combatant in wars of liberation from Spain), is administered via the nasal route, just as is Cuba’s hepatitis B vaccine. The other vaccine, named “Abdala” (a character in a Jose Marti poem) is administered intramuscularly. The two vaccines are involved in early trials.

Cuban education emphasizes science and technology. In the 1990s, Cuba accounted for 11 percent of doctorate-level Latin American scientists. Cuban scientists work in the 50 or so biomedical research and production facilities which together make up Cuba’s state-owned BioCubaFarma Corporation, and which produces vaccines, drugs, medical tests, and medical equipment. It makes 60 percent of medicines used in Cuba, and 8 of 12 vaccines.

Cuba previously produced a pioneering vaccine that prevents life-threatening infection caused by type B meningococcus. Cuba developed a genetically-engineered hepatitis B vaccine and a vaccine offering palliative treatment for lung cancer. A Cuba-developed vaccine offers protection against infection, particularly childhood meningitis, caused by the Hemophilus Influenza type B bacterium.

In fashioning vaccines, Cuban scientists relied on familiar technology.

To provide an immunological extra, the antigen of Cuba’s Sovereign II vaccine is mixed with tetanus toxoid, as was done with Cuba’s Hemophilus influenza vaccine. As with other vaccines, scientists used a segment of the virus’s protein – here the Covid-19 virus – to form an antigen to stimulate protective antibodies. By contrast, the US Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain the whole viral protein, not a segment. That protein contains “genetic instructions” which enter human cells, causing them “to make spike proteins, which then get released into the body” where they trigger antibodies.

Observers suggest that this innovative U.S. technology may be less safe than the one used in Cuban vaccines. Not requiring extremely cold storage, as do the US vaccines, the Cuban vaccines are suited for areas without adequate refrigeration capabilities.

Cuba’s bio-medical production sector has also created drugs for treating Covid-19 infection. Interferon, an antiviral agent developed in Cuba, produced in China, and used throughout the world, prevents many Covid–infected patients from becoming critically ill. The Cuban anti-inflammatory drug Jusvinza, used for treating auto-immune diseases, and Cuba’s monoclonal antibody Itolizumab, which moderates exaggerated immune responses, are both effective in reducing Covid-19 deaths.

The US approach to producing and distributing Covid-19 vaccines is based on private enterprise, although the US government did deliver billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines free of charge to recipients. The companies have contracted with purchasers abroad.

According to forbes.com in November, 2020, “If Moderna’s [vaccine] can get FDA approval and can make enough doses, its top line could be nearly $35 billion higher … than … in the last 12 months.” Another report suggests that, “The companies (Pfizer and Moderna) stand to earn billions of dollars in profits from their Covid vaccines this year [and] there will be more profits in later years.” The companies “claim the rights to vast amounts of intellectual property.”

W T Whitney, "A socialist approach," The News. 2021-02-09.
Keywords: Health sciences , Covid-19 infection , Medical services , Covid-19 vaccines , Biotechnological engineering , United Kingdom , America , China , Germany , South Korea , India , Cuba