Two Cuban COVID-19 vaccines are in solid progress to be available in summer, Dr. Rolando Perez Rodriguez, director of Science and Innovation at the Cuban Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries Group (BioCubaFarma), told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
Boasting one of the highest ratios in the world in terms of doctor density, 8.2 per 1,000 people according to the World Bank, Cuba has stood out as one of the most capable countries in the world to fight the coronavirus pandemic with only 664 reported deaths so far and slightly over 108,000 infections.
The US state of Florida alone, which is a stone’s throw from the Caribbean nation, has registered over 35,000 deaths, according to Maryland's Johns Hopkins University. Overall US infections have surpassed 32.4 million and fatalities have rapidly climbed to over 577,000.
Dr. Rodriguez said Cuba has decided to develop its own vaccine candidates to immunize all of its population, based on the capacities of the national biotech industry. He shared that the "immunization program will cover, stepwise, risk and vulnerable groups, adults, and finally pediatric population."
Two vaccine candidates – Soberana 02 and Abdala – are now in Phase III clinical trials, Rodriguez said, with ''efficacy data expected by June."
"However, positive safety and immunogenicity data from these vaccine candidates have been obtained in previous clinical trials," he added.
He said Cuba plans to complete vaccination of all its people, against all odds, before the end of this year, and drew attention to "a shortage worldwide for available supplies of raw materials and primary packaging material for the pharmaceutical industry."
"This situation is even worse in Cuba due to the economic and financial embargo imposed by USA against our country for several decades, which has been reinforced during the last years, even during the situation of sanitary emergency created by the COVID-19 pandemic,'' he complained.
In February 1962, US President John F. Kennedy proclaimed an embargo on trade between the United States and Cuba, "in response to certain actions taken by the Cuban Government," and directed the departments of commerce and the treasury to implement the embargo, which controversially remains in place to date.
Traditional vaccines vs novel ones
Dr. Rodriguez said traditional vaccine has a proven safety through a long term experience of medical use, but ''vaccines based on novel platform technologies are obtaining good results so far'' and can be developed and introduced in the market in shorter time.
"It is an issue of risk and benefit," said the director at patent-rich BioCubaFarma, a holding company that manages and coordinates national efforts in the biopharma sector to produce medicines and medical equipment, with 34 companies under it and more than 20,000 employees.
With regards to the vaccination of pediatric population, he said they are expecting approval of the Cuban Regulatory Agency to start clinical trials in school age children in order to confirm vaccine candidates' safety before a massive vaccination drive.
Once emergency use authorization of the COVID-19 vaccines is granted, Cuba will quickly immunize all of its population, Rodriguez concluded.