The BBC has published a report about how Cuban scientists are rapidly developing Soberana 2, a domestically produced vaccine to tackle the global COVID-19 pandemic. Read on and get the details.
Working around the clock to beat COVID-19
Inside the Finlay Institute in Cuba's capital city Havana, scientists and researchers are working day and night to develop and produce the Soberana 2 vaccine which would help Cuba to tackle the global COVID-19 crisis.
The BBC has reported that within just a matter of weeks, the vaccine will be tested on tens of thousands of volunteers.
So far, the results have been promising with Dr Vicente Verez Bencomo, the institute's director, stating that:
"The results from the first clinical trials were 'encouraging' and very 'important'."
This will mean that the Cuban government could fulfil its plans to give the vaccine to everyone on the island by the end of the year.
"Our plan is to, of course, first immunise our population. Moving to commercial production of Soberana 2, we're planning to have 100 million doses in 2021 and we will dedicate an important part of these doses to the full immunisation of the country." - Dr. Verez Bencomo
Cuba leading the way against the odds
Cuba's scientific achievements are all the more admirable when you consider that there has been no help or participation from the United States. After decades of blockades and embargos from successive U.S presidents, as well as a recent hard-line stance taken by Donald Trump, Cuba has often had to go it alone.
However, this also means that the Caribbean island does have more than 30 years of experience in biotechnology and immunology, also having produced the world's first meningitis B vaccine in the late 1980s.
Even so, regarding the Soberana 2 COVID-19 vaccine, despite participation from Canada and European countries like France and Italy, it still remains beyond the island's production capacity to make 100 million doses of the vaccine without more international assistance.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Unfortunately, Cuba's remarkable work at aiming to produce a COVID-19 vaccine is born out of necessity. The BBC reports that:
"Confirmed cases recently climbed to more than 1,000 a day for the first time since the pandemic began. While those figures are tiny compared to those in Mexico, Brazil and the U.S, they are still serious enough to place additional strain on Cuba's creaking healthcare system."
Previously, Cuba had largely contained the Coronavirus pandemic through a combination of aggressive public information campaigns and restricting incoming tourists by closing its airports.
Nevertheless, despite some valiant efforts, positive COVID-19 cases are increasing and action must be taken.
Boosting the economy or lowering the COVID curve?
As the BBC article goes on to say, Cuba faces a dilemma about choosing which curve to focus on; the dwindling economy or the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
It's an unhappy fact that Cuba is experiencing its worst economic outlook since the end of the Cold War, so never has the incentive for a vaccine been so important.
The coronavirus lockdown has been very painful for an island so dependent on tourism. It's estimated that the nation's economy took an 11% hit in 2020.
This vaccine would allow the island to reopen its doors to tourists sooner, and Soberana 2 would also generate some much-needed income if exported around the Caribbean region.
International bodies like the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) hope that Cuba will become the first Latin American country to produce its own vaccine.
"We're very optimistic. We've been kept informed since the pilot phase and during the experimental trials, and we've known that Cuba has been investigating the viability of several vaccines since August last year." - PAHO's representative in Cuba, Dr José Moya