In a measure of its ambitious efforts to be vaccine self-reliant, Cuba has named one of its homegrown jabs Abdala, after a famous dramatic verse by independence hero and national icon Jose Marti. In the verse, the young hero, Abdala, heads to war to defend his fatherland, full of patriotic fervor no matter how strong and powerful the enemy.
From the perspective of many Cubans, it’s the perfect name for the first COVID-19 vaccine to be developed in Latin America. And the perfect imagery for the story of a tiny island of 11 million inhabitants eager to show it can’t be broken by a deadly virus and a 60-year economic blockade by the United States, and a country that boasts several brilliant scientists of its own.
According to the state-run biotech corporation, BioCubaFarma, Abdala has proven about 92.28% effective against COVID-19 in clinical trials, which would put it the same league as the most effective vaccines BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna. Huge applause erupted in the auditorium of the CIGB this week when the impressive results were announced.
Since then, Guillen Nieto has been inundated with interview requests. The whole world wants to know Abdala’s formula for success. The Cuban vaccine is neither a vector vaccine nor does it work with mRNA technology. Instead, it’s a so-called protein vaccine. That means it carries a portion of the spike protein that the virus uses to bind to human cells. It docks onto the receptors of the virus’ own spike protein, thus triggering an immune reaction. The scientists are using yeast as a receptor-binding domain.
The government vaccination program was rolled out in mid-May with Abdala and the second homegrown vaccine, Soberana 2, even before the completion of the third phase of clinical trials. These are the first vaccines on the island since Cuba declined importing any shots from Russia or China. Cuba has also decided against joining the UN-backed COVAX initiative, a global project aimed at getting COVID-19 shots to countries regardless of their wealth.
While I guess you could say “how can you trust the Cuban government,” remember that Cuba’s brand is providing low-cost health care for the developing world. They’ve done this kind of thing for decades. I’d be a lot more inclined to take this than the Chinese or Russian-developed vaccine. Now, it’s true enough that Cuba is better at making vaccines than making sure it’s residents get enough calories every day. But as I’ve said many times, it’s not that Cuba isn’t messed up–it most certainly is. It’s that Cuba is messed up differently than other Latin American countries. Part of the way Cuba attempts to fund itself without engaging in capitalism is to export the medical expertise at a far lower cost than these nations can get it from the United States or other nations, but at a cost that is still a lot of money for Cuba. There’s a very good chance that this vaccine will save a lot of lives, especially in Africa, at the bottom of the vaccine line because of course it is.