CUBA | World Health Organization (WHO) Yet to Approve Cuba's COVID-19 Vaccine Submissions

CUBA |  World Health Organization (WHO) Yet to Approve Cuba's COVID-19 Vaccine Submissions

MONTEGO BAY,  Jamaica, April 7, 2023 - In the early days of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic which hit the world in 2020 with blitzkrieg-like ferocity  and speed, Cuba decided it was going to make its own vaccine – even though vaccine development historically takes years.

Given the geo-political realities surrounding Cuba, not the least of which is the 60 year old economic embargo imposed on the island by the United States, Its government didn't want to rely on the whims of foreign governments or international pharmaceutical companies to immunize its citizens.

In fact, Cuba took a pass and did not sign on to the COVAX program, backed by the World Health Organization,which promised to purchase vaccines in bulk for what it claimed would have been equitable distribution around the globe. 

Cuban manufactured COVID-19 VaccinesCuban manufactured COVID-19 VaccinesWhat took place in Cuba surrounding the development of its own vaccine, was an amazing feat of biotechnological achievement, as Cuba’s prestigious biotech sector created five different COVID vaccines, including Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus — all of which Cuba’s trial data says provide upwards of 90% protection against symptomatic Covid when administered in three doses.

Cuba over time, had developed a robust vaccine manufacturing sector where this country of 11 million people have been producing most of its own inoculations for its routine childhood immunization program, targeting diseases such as yellow fever, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus.

It was hoped that the WHO and its regional representative, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which were early cheerleaders of its decision to start developing five COVID-19 vaccines in early 2020, would accord speedy approval of these innovative Cuban vaccines.

Historically, both organizations have traditionally accepted Cuba’s technological expertise from that country’s biotechnological industry, which over time had developed a strong reputation for accuracy and quality. 

  A Cuban industrial complex prepares to start production of one of the country's newly developed COVID vaccines. Yander Zamora/Pool/AFP via Getty Images A Cuban industrial complex prepares to start production of one of the country's newly developed COVID vaccines. Yander Zamora/Pool/AFP via Getty Images Three of the vaccines, Soberana 1, Soberana 2 and Soberna Plus, were developed at the Finlay Institute in Havana. The other two, Abdala and Mambisa, came out of Cuba's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. 

Soberana 2, Soberana Plus and Abdala were authorized by the Cuban authorities for use and export while the other two (one of which is a nasal spray) were in clinical trials. None of them have yet been authorized by the World Health Organization or any other major international regulator.

While CARICOM countries like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have been reluctant to support Cuba by purchasing its newly minted vaccine, they are willing to receive medical support from that neighbour state, while countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Vietnam, Iran, Korea, China, Nicaragua, Syria, Bolivia, Chile,The Dominican Republic, Guatemala
India,  Morocco, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay and Peru among others, have supported Cuba by purchasing its product.

The following COVID-19 Vaccines have received Emergency Use Listing (EUL) approval:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech - Approved 31st December 2020
  • AstraZeneca - Approved 15th  February 2021
  • Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) - Approved 12th  March 2021
  • Moderna-NIAID - Approved 30th  April 2021
  • Sinopharm BIBP- Approved 7th  May 2021
  • Sinovac-CoronaVac - Approved 1st  June 2021
  • Covaxin BBV152 – Approved 3rd November, 2021
  • Covovax - Approved 17th December, 2021
  • Novavax - NVX-CoV2373/Nuvaxovid - Approved 20th December, 2021

Despite this however, Cuba boasts one of the highest COVID vaccination rates in the world. More than 90% of the island nation is fully immunized against the virus — a far higher vaccination rate than the U.S. It even tops every country in Europe except Portugal. The country is even giving shots to kids as young as 2 years old and is the first country in the world to develop a pediatric vaccine that they have administered.

This 90% vaccination rate was achieved against the backgroung of increased sanctions by the United States which prevented them from sourcing syringes which which was in direct opposition to the United nations recommendations that sanctions should have been relaxed to allow countries to properly their local health situation within the context of the  CAVIN-19 pandemic.

Cuban health officials credited past investments in nationwide primary healthcare infrastructure with facilitating rapid immunization of the general population.Cuban health officials credited past investments in nationwide primary healthcare infrastructure with facilitating rapid immunization of the general population.A report issued in October 2022 by MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba), a U.S.-based non-profit promoting health-related dialogue and collaboration, said Cuba’s ability to develop homegrown COVID-19 vaccines and immunize most of its citizens should serve as a model for developing countries around the world dealing with public health emergencies.

The report called for greater engagement with Cuba’s biotech sector, in spite of political challenges, to bolster the global fight against existing and emerging threats and to support equitable access to medical innovations. 

The authors also noted that Cuba’s COVID-19 vaccination rate in children and adolescents was much greater and was achieved much earlier than any other country in the world, and that the emphasis on vaccinating kids—who often serve as significant vectors for spreading infectious diseases to populations more at risk, such as the elderly—should be considered by other countries to blunt transmission rates in the general population. 

The possibility of using Cuba’s SOBERANA Plus vaccine as a universal booster globally should also be explored, the report said. 

The report, tendered by the first U.S.-led scientific delegation to visit Cuba in five years, recommended that “external economic barriers that hamper development, production, use, or cost recovery for Cuba’s biotech and pharmaceutical products or international collaboration with Cuba’s research institutions, biotech firms and public health professionals should be removed, to aid in the global fight against existing and emerging threats and support equitable access to medical innovations.” 

David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, was among the co-authors.

Workers at Havana’s airport prepare a shipment of a Cuban COVID-19 vaccine headed to Syria. Source: Yamil Lage / AFP via Getty ImagesWorkers at Havana’s airport prepare a shipment of a Cuban COVID-19 vaccine headed to Syria. Source: Yamil Lage / AFP via Getty ImagesFor many people, it was surprising that Cuba had been  successful in developing COVID vaccines at an equal  pace with some of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies. And that may very well be the problem, as with the development of these vaccines, Cuba posed a viable competition to “Big Pharma” which could not be allowed.

"Today, Cuba’s biotech industry includes 32 research and development institutes and manufacturing entities operating under the umbrella of the state-owned conglomerate BioCubaFarma. Their collective mandate is to develop products that address health problems in Cuba and, once domestic needs are met, to engage in export and partnerships to make them available in other countries. 7 BioCubaFarma companies export products to some 40 countries in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East and are involved in product development partnerships in the USA, France, Iran, China and Viet Nam, among others," says MEDICC.

Government authorities have said that Cuba could produce 120 to 200 million doses a year, which at USD $5 per dose—more than what bulk AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines have cost some countries—would generate minimum gross annual revenues of $600 million to $1 billion. Earnings would greatly multiply from higher per-dose rates, increased productive capacity, third-country production, support services, and medical brigades sent by Cuba as part of the vaccine package.

The country which has been in economic and social turmoil, as a result of the devastation of the embargo,  has been facing shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency, and other challenges occasioned by the sixty year economic blockade that includes food and medicine. 

Pandemic lockdowns further battered the economy, depriving the country of one of it's largest sources of revenue- tourism. U.S. President Trump in his final days in office, wickedly increased sanctions against the Cuban people, making it even harder for Cuba to import raw materials and pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment. 

Interestingly, there has been no ease of economic sanctions under the Biden/Harris administration as was widely expected due to the fact that Biden was part of the Obama administration which saw somewhat of a thaw in the relationship between Cuba and the United States.

The result of this has been that more and more people have been looking to escape the conditions in Cuba  by way of small boats, instead of resorting to a violent overthrow of the government as envisioned by the stated objective of the economic blockade by the US government. 


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