CUBA – The Caribbean island nation of 11 million people, which has been under a strict United States (US) trade embargo for decades, is in process of developing five experimental shots, including Soberana 02 and Abdala, which reached final-stage trials last month.

With both Soberana and Abdala in stage-three clinical trials, Cuba is racing towards potentially becoming the first country in Latin America to develop its own shot against the coronavirus.

The names of the vaccines reveal much about how Cuba sees its national effort, Soberana translates as “sovereign”, while the Abdala shot was named after a patriotic poem by the Cuban revolutionary hero Jose Marti.

Around 44,000 people will receive the Soberana 02 vaccine, and some 48,000 volunteers have been recruited for the Abdala trial with an additional 150,000 frontline workers to also receive the Soberana 02 shot.

According to BioCubaFarma, the Centre for Genetic Engineering Biotechnology trial data for the Abdala vaccine is expected to be out by the end of June whereas for Soberana 02 that is being developed by Finlay Institute, had the trial data register a 62 % efficacy rating with just two of its three doses.

With Finlay Institute confident that they can produce 100 million doses of the Soberana 02 vaccine this year, Cuba is hoping to have all its citizens vaccinated by the end of the year as well as export the vaccines produced in surplus.

History of vaccine production in Cuba

The ambitious goal of the country to produce its vaccine has been something Cuba has previously achieved with Hepatitis B and Meningitis B making the list decades ago.

Dr Jose Moya, a representative of the Pan American Health Organization in Cuba, said the island already develops 80 percent of the vaccines that are part of its national immunization programme.

The race to develop vaccines comes as the island struggles with a recent surge of infections with Cuba’s cumulative COVID data registering 169000 infections and 1170 deaths.

Prior to easing the lockdown measures, the country was experiencing low infection rates compared to after the lockdown mitigation measures were lessened though comparatively the country still has lower rates of infections.

Supply chain gap

Under the embargo, businesses are not allowed to sell to Cuba any medical product that contains more than 20 percent of American components, and the regulations require an individual license for equipment that has more than 10 percent.

The blockade has made it difficult to acquire the raw materials needed to produce the vaccines and to make payments to Cuba’s international suppliers, Dr Guillen said.

However, as the vaccine trials have progressed, the government has talked about sending doses to countries including Venezuela and Iran, where Soberana 02 is also undergoing late-stage trials.

Earlier this month Venezuela announced the signing of an agreement with Cuba that would allow them to produce the Abdala vaccine.