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The Cuban Vaccine

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The framing of this Post story on Cuba developing COVID vaccines that will go far to immunize the world’s poorer population is so frustrating. Titled “Against the odds, Cuba could become a coronavirus vaccine powerhouse” it invites readers to express surprise that such a nation could be developing vaccines. But of course this is exactly what Cuba does very, very, very well. For all the faults of the Cuban government, and there are many, it is cracker jack at developing quality low-cost health care. Moreover, the government funds itself by selling this to developing world nations, a good deal for both sides. So it’s in fact entirely expected that Cuba would become a global leader on this issue. The early results also look extremely promising:

Five vaccine candidates are in development, two in late-stage trials with the goal of a broader rollout by May. Should they prove successful, the vaccines would be an against-the-odds feat of medical prowess — as well as a public relations coup — for an isolatedcountry of 11 million that was added back to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in the final days of the Trump administration.

Cuban officials say they’re developing cheap and easy-to-store serums. They are able to lastat room temperature for weeks, and in long-term storage as high as 46.4 degrees, potentially making them a viable option for low-income, tropical countries that have been pushed aside by bigger, wealthier nations in the international scrum for coronavirus vaccines.

They could also make Cuba the pharmacistfor nations lumped by Washington into the “Axis of Evil” and “Troika of Tyranny.” Iran and Venezuela have inked vaccine deals with Havana. Iran has agreed to host a Phase 3 trial of one of Cuba’s most promising candidates — Soberana 2 — as part of a technology transfer agreement that could see millions of doses manufactured in Iran.

“We have great confidence in Cuban medical science and biotechnology,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told The Washington Post this week. “It will not only be fundamental for Venezuela, but for the Americas. It will be the true solution for our people.”

If Phase 3 trials are positive, Cuban authorities said this week, they would move to a vast “intervention study” that would inoculate almost all the residents of Havana, or 1.7 million people, by May. By August, they would aim to reach 60 percent of the national population, with the rest getting doses by year’s end.

If reached, that ambitious target could rank Cuba — a country where the average scientific researcher earns about $250 a month — among the first nations in the world to reach herd immunity, putting it in a position to lure vaccine tourists and to export surpluses of what officials claim could reach 100 million doses by year’s end.

Despite ridiculous geopolitics framing vaccinations, if the people of Iran and Venezuela aren’t vaccinated, then new COVID variants could arise and the pandemic could never quite end. It’s critical that Cuba fills this space in the global medical community and kudos for it for doing so.

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