Cuba hopes to produce 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine in 2021 and immunize its entire population this year, the director of the Finlay Institute announced on Wednesday, which is piloting two of the four projects in clinical trials.
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“We have the capacity to manufacture 100 million doses” of Soberana 2, the most advanced vaccine candidate, said Dr Vicente Vérez at a press conference, adding that “the production phase” has already started.
And “if all goes well, this year the entire Cuban population will be vaccinated”.
On Monday, Soberana 2 moved to phase IIb, which involves 900 applicants. If successful, it would enter phase III (the last before approval), with 150,000 volunteers, in March.
The Finlay Institute recently signed an agreement with the Institut Pasteur in Iran for the latter country to also participate in this phase III.
Soberana 1, currently in phase I, should move to “phase II-III” in February and will also be tested on people recovering from the disease, according to Dr. Pérez.
“We will begin in February a clinical trial on the pediatric population” so that the vaccine can also be administered to children, he also specified.
The aim is to launch the general vaccination campaign in the first half of the year: for Cubans, the vaccine would be free, but not compulsory. It would also be offered as an “option” to tourists visiting the island, said Dr Vérez.
In total, four candidates are in preparation: Soberana 1 and 2, Abdala and Mambisa, all in clinical trial phase (phase I or II). The first three are given by injection, the fourth by nasal spray.
Soberana 1 and 2 are developed by the Finlay Institute, Abdala and Mambisa by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB).
If any of these projects reach final authorization, it would be the first COVID vaccine designed and produced in Latin America.
Even though it is facing a recent rebound in cases, the country remains one of the least affected in the region by the pandemic, with 19,122 cases, including 180 deaths, for 11.2 million inhabitants.
Cuba, under an American embargo since 1962, has often had to find its own remedies, in drugs as well as in vaccines. Because, if the embargo spares health products, in fact many banks refuse any transaction related to the island, for fear of sanctions.
“For a poor country like Cuba, buying the vaccine we need for our people is an economic problem,” admitted the director of the Finlay Institute.
As early as the 1980s, the country, which devotes a quarter of its budget to health, has therefore relied on biotechnologies, discovering in particular the vaccine against meningococcus B. Currently, the national childhood vaccination program provides for 11 vaccines, of which 8 are manufactured. on the island, to fight against 13 diseases.