Cuba pledges ‘vital package’ of Covid-19 vaccine support for countries in the South at Progressive International press conference

The Cuban government has announced advanced plans to provide 200 million doses of locally produced Covid-19 vaccine to countries in the South, which the head of the Progressive International delegation to the Caribbean country described as a “lifeline”. .

by Progressive International

The pledges were made by key figures in Cuba’s health and technology sectors at a press conference hosted today (Tuesday, January 25) by Progressive International.

Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, Director of Science and Innovation at BioCubaFarma; Olga Lidia Jacobo-Casanueva, director of the State Control Center for Medicines and Medical Devices (CECMED); Ileana Morales Suárez, Director of Scientific and Technological Innovation, Ministry of Public Health, Cuba, Coordinator of the National Covid-19 Vaccination Plan, addressed and answered questions from journalists, vaccine manufacturers, public health experts and political representatives from other countries.

Despite the American embargo, Cuba has sufficient funding, notably from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, to produce the 200 million doses. Yesterday (Monday January 24), at a press conference in Havana, Dr. Vicente Vérez Bencomo, chief executive of the Finley Vaccine Institute, said that “120 million doses could be produced in a single year”.

During the press conference, the Cuban government announced its plan to get these doses into the arms of those in need in the Global South, including:

Solidarity pricing of Covid-19 vaccines for low-income countries;

Transfer of technology where possible for production in low-income countries;

Extension of medical brigades to strengthen medical capacities and training for the delivery of vaccines in partner countries.

The press conference was organized by Progressive International in response to what the World Health Organization (WHO) called a ‘tsunami’ of new Covid-19 cases sweeping the world in early 2022, a record number since the start of the pandemic in 2020, amid a situation that WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Gheybreysus has called “vaccine apartheid”. The impact of Covid-19 has been violently uneven: 80% of adults in the EU are fully vaccinated, but only 9.5% of people in low-income countries have received a single dose of the vaccine.

  1. Solidarity pricing of Covid-19 vaccines for low-income countries:

Cuba has already vaccinated its own population and more than 90% have received at least one dose of the locally produced vaccine.

Price inequalities have plagued the landscape of Covid-19 vaccines. World Health Organization (WHO) data analyzed by The Independent shows governments in low-income countries are paying an average price of $6.88 (£5.12) per dose of Covid vaccine. Before the pandemic, developing countries paid an average of $0.80 per dose for non-covid vaccines, according to WHO figures. South Africa was forced to buy doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at 2.5 times the price paid by most European countries. Bangladesh and Uganda also paid more than the EU for the vaccine.

COVAX, the global vaccine procurement initiative to ensure a subsidized supply of vaccines to the poorest countries, has repeatedly fallen short of its targets and, in September 2021, announced a 25% reduction in its planned supply of vaccines by 2021.

Cuba has sent donations to countries that have requested assistance with Covid-19 vaccines, including more recently to Syria and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Additionally, it has exported doses and negotiated technology transfer agreements with other countries, including Argentina, Iran, Venezuela, Vietnam and Nicaragua.

  1. Transfer of technology if possible for production in low-income countries:

Cuba is in talks with more than 15 countries about production in their country.

Cuban vaccines use a protein subunit technology platform, based on protein antigens, which facilitates their large-scale production and storage, as they do not require freezing temperatures.

Cuba’s offer is likely to find many interested buyers, many of whom have been turned down by big pharmaceutical companies. John Fulton, spokesman for Canadian manufacturer Biolyse, said: “I am interested in this presentation because Cuba presents a unique model of vaccine internationalism. I look forward to hearing what opportunities might exist for technology transfer for the production of Covid-19 vaccines for low-income countries. Biolyse attempted to apply for a compulsory license through Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime, specifically for the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.

Last month, experts identified more than 100 companies in Africa, Asia and Latin America with the potential to produce mRNA vaccines, urging the US and German governments to force their drug companies to share the technology. However, no progress has been made, and earlier this year the World Health Organization lamented that “the lack of sharing of licences, technology and know-how by pharmaceutical companies meant that the ability of workmanship was wasted”.

BioCubaFarma, Cuba’s public biotech organization, has been in close contact with WHO officials to obtain prequalification status for its Covid-19 vaccines, which it hopes to do in 2022. A full data package is expected. be submitted to the WHO in early February. In addition, Cuba plans to work with the national regulatory agencies of all countries interested in acquiring Cuban vaccines.

  1. Extension of medical brigades to strengthen medical capacities and training for the distribution of vaccines in partner countries:

Cuba plans to send its Henry Reeve Brigades to countries that need vaccine delivery support, both for immediate deployment and long-term training of personnel.

Disparities in vaccine delivery capacity are hampering the ability of governments to ensure rapid deployment of Covid-19 vaccines in many low-income countries. According to the international humanitarian organization CARE, the cost of delivering vaccines to developing countries has been grossly underestimated by international donors, leaving many donated doses waiting to reach weapons. Kate O’Brien, director of vaccines at the WHO, said funding for distribution “is absolutely an issue that we are seeing and hearing from countries”.

Cuba has proven itself in this approach: in 2014 and 2015, Cuban doctors worked against Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, reducing the mortality rates of their patients by 50% to 20%, and introduced a preventive education program to stop the spread of the disease. By January 2015, Cuba had trained more than 13,000 people to deal with Ebola in 28 African countries, in addition to 68,000 people in Latin America and 628 in the Caribbean. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, some forty countries on five continents have received Cuban doctors.

The offer of technical assistance holds great promise for developing countries, as many of them have focused on building strong domestic biotech industries. At the Progressive International Summit, Anyang’ Nyong’o, governor of Kisumu County in Kenya, invited Cuba “to come to Kenya to share technology and scale up production of the candidate vaccines they are developing.”

The press conference follows the four-day summit of Progressive International for Vaccine Internationalism in June 2021, which proclaimed a “new international health order” and which was attended by the national governments of Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela, as well as the governments of Kisumu (Kenya) and Kerala (India), as well as political leaders from 20 countries.

You can watch the full presentation here

The original article can be found here

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