[News] Cuba Working on a 'People’s Vaccine’: the US and the world should get behind it

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Mar 15 15:53:30 EDT 2021


  Cuba Working on a 'People’s Vaccine’: the US and the world should
  get behind it

by Beth Geglia <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/beth-geglia/> - 
March 15, 2021

“The life of just one person is worth more than the private property 
of the richest man.” This is what’s written on the Calixto Garcia 
public hospital in Havana Cuba as a testament to the country’s 
commitment to free public healthcare, and to putting people before 
profit. I know this about Cuba  because in March, at the onset of the 
global Covid-19 pandemic, I spent a week in the ICU at Calixto Garcia. I 
had been hit by a speeding ambulance, and Cuban doctors saved my life, 
operated on me twice, and nursed me to stability before putting me on a 
private medical evacuation flight back to the U.S. All of this, 
including the flight, was free of cost to me- covered by Cuba’s 
government-run insurance for foreign visitors. From my hospital bed, as 
the global emergency around me escalated, I witnessed  how the Cuban 
government swiftly mobilized resources to protect its citizens from 
Covid-19: at-home testing for anyone with symptoms, door to door 
preventative education in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, and 
coordinated isolation when necessary. While deaths soared toward 100,000 
in the U.S., Cuba was able to get the average daily Covid-19 related 
deaths close to zero 
<https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus/country/cuba?country=~CUB> for 
most of May-August.

Cuba’s humanist approach  when it comes to health was not new to me. 
In 2013, I co-directed a documentary on a free hospital in northern 
Honduras. The doctors there, all from afro-indigenous Garifuna 
communities, had been trained in Cuba at the Latin American School of 
Medicine (ELAM) for free. Cuba created the ELAM in 1999 to train doctors 
from the poorest regions of countries around the world (including the 
U.S.), providing full scholarships of six years tuition, room, and 
board, with the hope that these doctors would return and provide 
accessible and preventative healthcare in their communities. The ELAM 
was born as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, 
and has trained tens of thousands of doctors from over 110 countries 
since then.

Cuba is now poised to play an important role in global efforts to curb 
the pandemic. New variants in South Africa and Brazil, all with yet 
unknown implications for vaccine effectiveness, have shown us that any 
effort to achieve herd immunity is only as good as it is accessible 
equitably across the globe. Yet, as predicted, the global north is 
outpacing the global south dramatically 
<https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations> in vaccination.

On February 3, Anthony Fauci said 
in an event hosted by the Journal of the American Medical Association 
(JAMA) network, that developing COVID-19 vaccines “is not a race.” 
“We want everybody to get over the finish line,” he assured. Dr. 
Fauci mentioned the Russian and the Chinese vaccines  and later 
suggested that the U.S. should help other countries strengthen their 
vaccine manufacturing capacity to promote more vaccinations globally. At 
no point did he mention Cuba.

Thanks to an established publicly-funded biotechnology program, Cuba 
currently has four vaccine candidates. One of those vaccines, Soberana 
02, started Phase 3 clinical trials in early March. Another candidate, 
Abdala, started Phase 2 trials in February. Both vaccines are being 
developed by public research institutions and are the most promising 
candidates in Latin America. The fact that Dr. Fauci failed to mention 
these candidates is disappointing.

The U.S. and other governments should set aside antiquated hostility 
toward Cuba and support the development and distribution of its 
vaccines. The first step is to take the vaccine candidates seriously and 
remove any barriers presented by U.S. sanctions. Second, global actors 
should support Cuba’s efforts to scale up manufacturing, should they 
decide to pursue this. Unlike current vaccines which are hoarded by the 
Global North, Cuba’s vaccine candidates have the potential to become 
the “people’s vaccine” that activists and scientists around the 
world have called for <https://peoplesvaccine.org/>. For example, the 
World Health Organization’s (WHO) Covid-19 Technology Access Pool 
(C-TAP) makes it possible to have the first vaccine ever licensed openly 
on the global stage. While the WHO’s better-known COVAX program aims 
to pool procurement and distribute vaccine doses more equally, it does 
nothing to address the underlying intellectual property regime that 
produces monopolies on vaccines and limits their manufacturing.� The 
C-TAP was created at the onset of the pandemic to pool the rights to 
life-saving technologies 
and facilitate a truly equitable and effective vaccine roll out, but no 
country or company has chosen to license through the C-TAP to date.

Regardless of the mechanism, Cuban officials have stated a clear 
intention to, once again, place people before profit.  “Cuba’s 
strategy to market the vaccine is a combination of things; first comes 
humanity and the impact on health, and in second place is our 
industry’s need to sustain sufficient production of the vaccine and 
medicines for the country,” explained Vicente Vérez of the Finlay 
Vaccines Institute in Cuba for Prensa Latina TV 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPb1DcsFFGo&feature=emb_logo>. “We 
are not a multinational where returns [on investment] are the number one 
reason for existing, and improving health is just a consequence. We work 
the opposite way. For us, it’s about achieving health. The returns are 
a consequence of achieving health, but they will never be the priority.”

Having an adequately tested and accessible vaccine from Cuba will, as 
the Soberana 02 name suggests, contribute to the autonomy of countries 
like Cuba and nearby Haiti to safeguard their populations free from 
dependence on multinational monopolies. But it also might be the saving 
grace for the botched global vaccine rollout that leaves us all 
susceptible to new strains. The US should support Cuban vaccine 
development because it is good for us and it is good for the world.

/Beth Geglia is a researcher and documentary filmmaker. She is 
completing her Ph.D. in Anthropology at American University. Her 
doctoral research focuses on ZEDE development, governance, and land 
struggles in Honduras./

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