Cuba touts encouraging results in Covid-19 vaccine trials

By Lorena Canto

Havana, Jun 22 (EFE).- One of the two Covid-19 vaccines under development in Cuba has shown itself to be 92 percent effective in clinical trials, encouraging news in a country whose government is counting on creating its own vaccine.

Seeking to make a virtue of necessity, the Communist government has decided to rely on Cuba’s well-established pharmaceutical and biotech sector rather than spend precious hard currency buying vaccines on the international market.

The Finlay Vaccine Institute (IFV) said that two doses of its Soberana 02 formula proved 62 percent effective in Phase 3 clinical trials involving 44,000 people, while the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), reported that its three-dose vaccine, Abdala, achieved 92 percent efficacy among 48,000 test subjects.

The global minimum standard for vaccine approval requires effectiveness of at least 50 percent.

“The efficacy of Abdala in symptomatic cases is an impressive index that positions it at levels similar to those obtained with vaccines that use novel technologies such as messenger RNA,” molecular biologist Amilcar Perez Riverol told Efe, alluding to the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Perez Riverol, a former CIGB researcher now at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil, said that the data on Soberana 02 suggest that following two doses of that vaccine with a dose of the Soberana Plus formula – also under development – should boost effectiveness to at least 80 percent.

IFV and CIGB said they plan to ask Cuba’s Cecmed regulatory agency to issue emergency use authorizations for their respective vaccines as Cuba battles a third wave of Covid-19 infections.

Once Cecmed gives the green light, the next step will be seeking certification from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Though international approval is not strictly necessary before beginning vaccination in Cuba, a WHO endorsement of Soberana 02 and Abdala would dispel doubts about the veracity of the trial results reported in state-run media.

Critics have asked how Cuban institutions can develop vaccines at a time when the island is suffering shortages of items such as aspirin and antibiotics.

“The lack of basic medications is regrettable because, like Covid-19, it has a profound impact on people’s health. But synthesizing an antibiotic and making a vaccine are different processes,” Perez Riverol said.

Cuba, he pointed out, has “more than 35 years of investment in human capital, experience in working with vaccines and investment in infrastructure for research, development and production of vaccines and of equipment associated with this type of technology.”

As a result, when the pandemic arrived, “Cuba was in a perfect situation to develop a vaccine” without having to make large new investments or divert resources from other areas, he said.

Another “crucial” element, according to Perez Riverol, has been the constant communication among all of the relevant institutions, including the health ministry.

“Without that it would not have been possible to conduct the clinical trials so quickly, and without clinical trials, you have nothing,” the Cuban scientist said.

Two Latin American countries, Argentina and Venezuela, have expressed interest in acquiring vaccines from Cuba, while the Iranian government said it plans to issue an emergency use authorization for Soberana 02 as early as this week. EFE lcl/dr

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