Cuba Bets Big on Its Own Vaccines
Bloomberg Businessweek|May 31 - June 07, 2021 (Double Issue)
If they prove effective, locally made drugs could be an economic lifeline for the island
By Jim Wyss

Cuba is taking a high-risk gamble that it can solve a worsening Covid-19 crisis on its own, with vaccines made by local labs. The communist nation is inoculating hundreds of thousands of people with the shots even as they’re still being tested. Unlike almost every other nation in the Americas, Cuba hasn’t reached out to the global Covax program to seek vaccines being used elsewhere.

The Cuban strategy centers on Soberana 02 and Abdala, made by the Finlay Institute of Vaccines and the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center of Cuba (CIGB), respectively. Both drugs are in Phase III clinical trials, and more than 415,000 doses have been administered during the testing process, using a three-dose regimen. The government says that, based on preliminary results, it’s forging ahead with inoculating frontline workers and at-risk populations.

In addition to the shots given during the trials, more than 445,000 Cubans have received at least one dose of Abdala, President Miguel Díaz-Canel said on May 18. Soberana 02 will be added to the mix soon. When the pandemic raged across the Western Hemisphere last year, Cuba was able to keep a lid on the outbreak. But now the country of 11 million is reaching records, averaging 1,255 new cases per day in late May—up from 165 a day in January.

“When you’re talking about life or death, we believe that the elements of safety and efficacy are present that allow us to move forward,” Health Minister José Angel Portal said on state-run television on May 7 as he announced the expanded vaccination program. “There’s no time to waste.”

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