Cuban Vaccines and Global Inequity

Cuban Vaccines and Global Inequity
Cuban Vaccines and Global Inequity

At the end of November, the first shipment of the Cuban vaccine against covid-19 arrived in Mexico. Called Abdala, this is one of the three Cuban vaccines –along with Soberana 2 and Soberana Plus– authorized by the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris). The Cuban vaccines thus join the other nine – including Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (EU), AstraZeneca (England) and Sinovac (China) – also authorized by this body for emergency use in Mexico.

At first glance, it seems surprising that Cuba, a poor country, besieged by the US blockade for six decades and experiencing an acute economic crisis, appears alongside great powers such as the United States, England and China, on the list of countries that have developed their own vaccine. Recent studies have not only highlighted the great effectiveness of Cuban vaccines –over 95 percent to prevent severe cases and death from covid-19–, but Cuba stands out for its high level of vaccination.

Earlier this year, cAbout 86 percent of its population had already received the three doses of its vaccine, a level only surpassed then by the United Arab Emirates. Cuba was also the first country to massively vaccinate children up to two years of age, a process that reduced the lethality of the pandemic on the island since although covid-19 does not affect them as seriously as older people, the small ones are a source of transmission.

Cuba has been developing medicines and vaccines for its own population as well as for export and donation to other countries in the world since the 1980s. The Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and the Finlay Vaccine Institute have a proven track record in developing safe and effective vaccines. Among them are the first vaccine developed worldwide against meningococcal meningitis (MenB), applied in Cuba since 1989; the vaccine against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), administered in Cuba since 2003; and the vaccine against hepatitis B, used in Cuba since 1992. The latter was the first recombinant vaccine in the world authorized by the World Health Organization.

The infrastructure, experience, and advances in the creation of these vaccines formed the basis for developing vaccines against covid-19. Unlike the new mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology used by Pfizer and Moderna that is designed to teach cells to produce a protein that, if the body becomes infected, triggers an immune response, Cuban vaccines are based on a method more traditional. They contain a part of the protein that the coronavirus uses to bind to human cells, which, when administered, generates antibodies that block this binding. The Cuban method has three great advantages: it is cheaper, it is easier to reproduce, and the vaccines do not require the ultra-freezing needed by the mRNA ones. These characteristics make it more feasible to vaccinate the world population, especially in poor countries.

Among the multiple injustices exposed by the pandemic is the global inequality that allowed rich countries to acquire and administer surplus vaccines for their population, while poor countries were forced to wait. By February 2022, almost two years after the pandemic was declared, only 9.5 percent of the population of poor countries had received a dose of the vaccine. Another great injustice is the fortune acquired by the pharmaceutical industries. Despite the immense investment from the public sector that they were endowed with to develop their vaccines, the pharmaceutical companies, together with the governments of the US, Great Britain and Canada, blocked attempts to release the formula so that they could be produced on a massive scale. In November 2021, as these industries geared up for their annual convention, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna alone were generating $65,000 in profit every minute. Meanwhile, less than one percent of the vaccines from the first and barely .2 percent of those from the second had been delivered to poor countries.

Among the reasons that Cuban scientists and officials cite for having made the decision to direct all their capacity towards the production of their own vaccines is that they did not trust that they could acquire them from the international community. Their experience with the US blockade – which also sanctions third parties if they do business with Cuba – gave them more than good reason to doubt. The empire was not cut off by refusing to relax, even minimally, its inhumane sanctions at a time of unprecedented health emergency.

Cuba’s gamble has given results, not only for its own population, but for that of other countries, whose peoples the United States also insists on punishing. Cuba has sent its vaccines to Venezuela, Syria, Nicaragua and Vietnam; Sovereign 2 is being produced in Iran. In addition, it developed agreements with other countries to transfer its technology and provide the vaccines at low cost.

Under extremely adverse conditions, Cuba continues to surprise the world: with its international medical brigades, with its innovations in medicine, with the high levels of health of its population. Your covid vaccines are another reminder of what can be achieved, if you don’t operate under capitalist logic.

(Taken from La Jornada)

The article is in Spanish

Tags: Cuban Vaccines Global Inequity