Will the Cuban Abdala vaccine compete with BioNTech/Pfizer?

Developed by the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), Abdala became the first Covid-19 vaccine to be developed in Latin America. Cuban authorities claim that in the third stage of clinical trials, it showed 92.28 percent effectiveness. If these data are true, the Cuban drug will play in the same league with vaccines such as BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.

Last week the Cuban health regulator, CECMED, approved the vaccine for emergency use. Havana will further be able to apply to WHO for approval of the drug for international use. Bolivia, Jamaica, Venezuela, Argentina and Mexico have already expressed interest in the vaccine.

To complete a full course of Abdala vaccination, three doses should be given intramuscularly spaced two weeks apart. The Cuban authorities have ambitious plans: by August, they hope to vaccinate 70 percent of the country’s population.

The Cuban government really cannot delay, because the incidence in the country continues to grow. More than 2,000 new cases of Covid-19 infection are registered daily in Cuba, and a total of about 1,200 people have died from the effects of coronavirus infection.

The pharmaceutical company Biocubafarma certifies a vaccine developed in Cuba. It is no coincidence that the new Cuban Abdala drug against the coronavirus got its name. This is the name of the hero of the poem authored by the famous Cuban poet and writer Jose Marti: the young and brave Abdallah goes to war to defend his homeland. In the eyes of many Cubans, the vaccine represents a real success story: a country of 11 million people has once again shown the world that it has outstanding scientists whose work has not been hampered by a pandemic or a 60-year economic blockade by the United States. But is it really true and how effective is this vaccine?

However, Abdala is neither a mRNA vaccine (as, for example, BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna) nor a vector vaccine (such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and “Sputnik V”). The Cuban drug is based on an inactivated coronavirus and contains a tiny particle of a characteristic spike protein (S-protein, “spike” – Ed.), to which the immune system responds.

The campaign to vaccinate the Cuban people with Abdala and the second locally produced Soberana drug began in mid-May, before the end of the third phase of clinical trials.

Cuba has abandoned vaccines from Russia or China, and is not participating in the COVAX program, which helps low-income countries receive vaccines.

But is the Abdala vaccine really as effective as the Cuban authorities claim? Epidemiologist with 30 years of experience José Moya believes that official figures can be trusted. Moya previously worked for the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, and for the past two years has been a representative of the PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) in Cuba.

“CIGB has 30 years of experience in vaccine development. I trust the published results, these are serious studies,” said the epidemiologist. He emphasizes that 80 percent of all vaccines in Cuba are produced on site. Therefore, the news of the high effectiveness of the drug Abdala did not surprise Moya.

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