What if part of the solution came from Cuba? A shortage of vaccine doses today threatens the entire planet. Certainly at different scales, since the richer countries were able to launch their campaign before being confronted with it when another half of the globe is still docked, especially in Africa. But the problem is there: due to structurally limited production capacities, the current cascade of delivery delays, and the lack of international solidarity, there are, in the immediate future, not enough bottles for everyone. .
In recent days, the European Union has therefore been studying Russian and Chinese vaccines with new curiosity. A reinforcement “not impossible”, according to the expression of Marie-Paule Kieny, president of the “Covid-19 vaccines committee”. And why not soon the arrival of the Cuban product? The hypothesis, a bit provocative, came from Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Twitter account on Tuesday evening. “Where are the scoffers?” he wondered in reference to the fact that he had campaigned for the review of the Russian vaccine. The worst for them will happen: a Cuban vaccine in free license! “
What credit can we give to this track? The Caribbean island, renowned for the excellence of its biomedical industry, has made a good start in the manufacture of four vaccines. One of them must access by early March to the last stage before homologation (phase 3). But we are still far, very far from a vaccine whose recipe would be made available free of charge to the rest of the planet.
100 million doses promised in 2021
The Republic of Cuba is betting heavily on producing the first South American vaccine and therefore escaping Western companies. Technological sovereignty is a matter of principle for the communist island. Under an American embargo since 1962, Cuba very early invested in the medical sector and cutting-edge research, notably discovering the first vaccine against meningococcus B. Exports of health products have even become the spearhead of the country’s economy.
At present, the most advanced product against Covid-19 is called “Soberana 2” (“Sovereign 2”). Deemed “safe” with “mild adverse effects” by the National Center for the Coordination of Clinical Trials, but not yet validated by independent reviews, it is developed by the pharmaceutical laboratory Finlay, an organization managed by the State. The public authorities promise to produce 100 million doses in 2021. Enough to widely vaccinate the 11.3 million inhabitants “if all goes well”, announced at the end of January the doctor Vicente Vérez, director of the institute.
Donations to tourists and allies
Part of the remaining doses would then be offered as an “option” to tourists. This choice, some opponents compare it to “vaccine tourism”. And many do not care as the country, so far spared by Covid-19, faces a worrying resurgence of cases and must manage regular shortages of drugs and food.
According to Dr. Vérez, other bottles will also be offered to certain partner countries in the South: Vietnam, Venezuela, India, and of course Iran. Also subject to severe sanctions from Washington, the Iranian government regularly collaborates with Cuba on advanced pharmaceutical projects. At the beginning of January, Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei “banned the importation of vaccines made in the United States or the United Kingdom”, and in the process announced collaborating with Havana to test the Cuban vaccine on 50,000 of its fellow citizens. “It would have taken too long to do it at home because of the rather weak circulation of the virus and the small population of the island”, indicates Niels Graber, sociologist and anthropologist of health at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland ).
“Cuba’s vaccine will be Alba’s vaccine,” said Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez during a recent visit to Havana. This “Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas” brings together, among others, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
It should be noted that the sharing of certain doses would not in itself be surprising in view of the island’s tradition of “medical internationalism”. For decades, Cuban doctors singing the praises of the regime have been sent to help populations devastated by war or natural or health disasters. Haiti, Balkans, Kashmir… In recent months, Italy and Andorra have also benefited, as has France with a convoy in Martinique.
Free license, an ideological debate
So here’s for donations. But, for the time being, no Cuban public official has yet expressed the idea of unlocking the license of his or her vaccine (s). “The Cuban biotechnology industry generally relies on patent filings. A patent is the recognition of an innovation and then it helps attract investors, ”says Niels Graber. As it stands, the latter rather plans that agreements be sealed a posteriori to “share innovation with certain countries”.
Jérôme Martin, head of the Observatory for transparency in drug policies, is just as cautious. Although he hopes that this kind of measure will soon see the light of day. “The patent system has never shown how dysfunctional it is. Vaccines against Covid-19 are financed mainly with public funds and yet, in reality, they are not subject to any conditionality in terms of price, the lifting of intellectual property, guarantees and universal access ”, protests he. A project brought to the UN by South Africa and India on a temporary renunciation of intellectual property has divided Western countries and those in the South since the fall.
According to Covax, this UN initiative supposed to guarantee equitable access to vaccines throughout the world and victim of many setbacks, the question is “more complex”. “The main challenge for this acute phase of the epidemic is that of supply,” explains a manager. We must ensure that producers can quickly deliver to countries and therefore develop existing infrastructure ”. For confidentiality reasons, the organization also refuses to say whether negotiations are underway with Cuban laboratories.
Original article by : www.leparisien.fr