By Randy Alonso Falcón, Cuban journalist, Director of the web portal Cubadebate, the site Fidel Soldado de las Ideas and the Cuban Television program “Mesa Redonda”. He directed other Cuban publications such as Somos Jóvenes, Alma Mater and Juventud Técnica. He received the Juan Gualberto Gómez National Journalism Award in TV in 2018. He has won several awards in the 26th of July National Journalism Contest. Email: email@example.com On Twitter: @RandyAlonsoFalc,
Edilberto Carmona Tamayo, Chief of the Department of Multimedia Production, Monitoring and Innovation of Cubadebate and the Roundtable. Graduated in Journalism in 2016 from the University of Holguín. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @edctamayo
March 19, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
The apprehensions raised in some countries by the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, the US dirty campaign against the Russian Sputnik V and the confirmed refusal of the most powerful nations to let their pharmaceutical companies temporarily release the patents of their antidotes against COVID-19, have further strained the availability of vaccines and deepened the profound differences in the right to life between the powerful and the poor in this world.
Never before has a health emergency struck so many in so many places and in such a short space of time. COVID-19 has already affected more than 120 million people in the world and has caused the death of more than 2.6 million human beings.
Such a universal challenge warranted a global and coordinated response. But once again, contrary to the demands of the UN and the World Health Organization, nationalism, pettiness, the overwhelming power of transnational corporations and every person for themselves, have prevailed.
Vaccines seem to be the only effective barriers against the pandemic. Only immunization of a majority of the world’s population could put a stop to the growing transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But neither the pharmaceutical transnationals nor the governments of the rich world have that vocation for collective response and global solidarity.
The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry suffers from high concentration and transnationalization. Large companies from developed countries and emerging economies monopolize drug research, production and distribution. Nine of them are among the 100 companies that generate the highest revenues worldwide.
According to Euromonitor Global, the pharmaceutical industry is responsible for almost 4% of global production activity. If it were a country, it would be among the 15 richest economies on the planet. Almost half of the sector’s total sales come from China and the USA, followed by Switzerland, Japan, Germany and France.
The production of vaccines, in particular, concentrates in 4 large firms more than 80% of the market, according to 2019 data: the British GlaxoSmithKline, the American Merck Sharp & Dohme and Pfizer, and the French Sanofi.
That global market generated in 2018 some $37 billion and it is estimated that by 2027 it will exceed 6$4.5 billion.
As is remarkable, underdeveloped nations -which are the vast majority-, have hardly any capacity to develop their own vaccines (Cuba is one of the few honorable exceptions) and no productive capacities of their own. This has left them with little room for maneuver to influence the uneven development of vaccines in the midst of the pandemic.
Since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, it has been calling for a concerted and joint solution to the threat. But the wrathful logic of the market dictates the course of our world and what has taken place since then is a frantic race to hit the bull’s eye (immune and financial), in which there has been no shortage of obstacles, pressures and even blackmail.
From the outset, the major powers allied themselves with the major pharmaceutical corporations in order to conveniently manage the discovery of a solution that would allow them to emerge with an advantage from the health and economic crisis ravaging the world.
Governments provided at least $8.6 billion for vaccine development, according to analyst firm Airfinity. The US, EU and UK invested billions in AstraZeneca’s vaccine, developed by Oxford University. Germany invested $445 million in the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech. Moderna’s vaccine was fully funded and co-produced by the U.S. government.
While philanthropic organizations contributed $1.9 billion. Individual personalities such as Bill Gates, Alibaba founder Jack Ma and country music star Dolly Parton made contributions.
Only $3.4 billion has come from the pharma companies’ own investment, part of which has also come from external funding.
Despite the fact that Big Pharma has only provided one third of the funding, who is reaping the economic benefits? Who has set the rules of the game in the distribution of vaccines?
To obtain the vaccine against COVID became, beyond the health interest, a geopolitical objective. Whoever managed to get the vaccine would capitalize on its commoditization and whoever had more financial resources would be able to monopolize more immunizations.
Scandalous was the news of the Trump administration’s maneuver, as early as March 2020, for the German company CureVac -which had begun to research a possible vaccine-, to leave its headquarters in the European country and move to the U.S. in exchange for “large amounts of money”.
As it had also acquired PCR tests, pulmonary ventilators, masks and biosafety equipment, Washington also set out from the beginning to acquire the production and distribution of vaccines.
This was coupled with sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, smear campaigns against Russian and Chinese vaccine candidates in a concerted attempt to shut them out of other markets. Many doubts were cast on the speed of development, quality of clinical trials and effectiveness of the candidates from both nations, especially against Sputnik V from Gamaleya Laboratories.
After Russia’s leading vaccine was certified by its authorities and sparked interest in several nations, the United States and the European Union have been tripping it up all over the place. The 2020 Annual Report of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently revealed that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently revealed that the Office of Global Affairs (OGA) used the Office of the Health Attaché in Brazil to persuade the government of that South American country to “reject the Russian COVID-19 vaccine”.
In response to the revelation, Russian presidential spokesman Dimity Peskov stated: “In many countries, the scale of pressure is unprecedented (…) such selfish attempts to force countries to abandon some vaccines lack perspective. We believe that there should be as many doses of vaccines as possible so that all countries, including the poorest, have a chance to stop the pandemic.”
The European Union, for its part, has not yet given the green light to the Russian vaccine for use in its member countries, even though that region has lagged behind the US, Canada, the UK and Israel in vaccine availability, and even though the prestigious health journal The Lancet acknowledged the high efficacy of Sputnik V in a publication.
Beyond such barriers, Russian and Chinese vaccines have been gaining ground in different regions, due to their effectiveness and the global shortage of immunizers. Slovakia even left the European Union fold to acquire 2 million doses of Sputnik V and Hungary, which has also approved the use of the Russian vaccine, acquired doses of the Chinese Sinopharm, which has also not received the green light from the European Medicines Agency.
The States made the major investment, but BigPharma imposes the conditions and keeps the revenues. The monopoly of a few multinationals in the procurement and production of anti-COVID-19 vaccines gives such companies overwhelming power.
Recent reports show how pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has attempted to impose onerous conditions on Latin American nations to supply them with certain quantities of its injectable.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro showed his displeasure these days at Pfizer’s demands on his government, pointing out that among the conditions set by the consortium is a clause in the purchase contract that exempts it from “all liability” for possible side effects of its immunizer.
“We have been very hard and they have been very hard on us. They won’t change a comma. The government is dealing with this together with Congress and it is being discussed in terms of a relaxation of the law”, said the recently dismissed Brazilian Minister of Health, Army General Eduardo Pazuello.
Argentina, Peru and the Dominican Republic also suffered intense pressure from Pfizer, as shown in an investigation by The Bureau Investigative Journalism.
Pfizer representatives in Buenos Aires demanded indemnification against any civil claims citizens might file if they experienced adverse effects after being vaccinated. “We offered to pay for millions of doses upfront, we accepted this international insurance, but the last request was extraordinary: Pfizer demanded that Argentina’s sovereign assets also be part of the legal backing,” an Argentine official confessed. “It was an extreme demand that I had only heard when the foreign debt had to be negotiated, but in that case as in this one, we rejected it immediately.”
There are several voices that warn that the urgency to have vaccines available for a disease that has left so many dead in the world may have led some governments to accept significant limitations on their responsibilities and demand transparency on the agreements with pharmaceutical companies.
Professor Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center for National and Global Health Law said, “Pharmaceutical companies should not use their power to limit life-saving vaccines in low- and middle-income countries” and noted that liability protection should not be used as “the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of desperate countries with desperate populations”.
Even mighty Europe seems to have felt the pressures. Although EU agreements with vaccine manufacturers are kept with their main clauses secret, the Vaccine Procurement Strategy made public by the European Commission states that “the responsibility for the development and use of the vaccine, including any specific compensation required, will lie with the procuring Member States.”
Vaccine production capacities in the world are insufficient to have the necessary doses this year to immunize the world’s population. The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) says that the estimated global demand for vaccines in 2021 is between 10 and 14 billion doses.
According to statistics cited by data firm Statista, the United States can produce nearly 4.7 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine and India more than 3 billion potential doses. China, previously not a major player in the vaccine export market, has committed to manufacturing more than 1 billion doses.
Great Britain, Russia, Germany and South Korea are also among the established manufacturing centers, but with lower production capacity.
Given this reality, the inequity and injustice of today’s world are once again evident: the richest countries have purchased most of the vaccines that will be produced in 2021 (even for stockpiling), while poor nations will not have doses to administer even to their most vulnerable segments of the population. More than 100 nations are waiting for the first bulb to arrive.
It is estimated that 90% of the inhabitants of the nearly 70 lowest-income countries will not have the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19 this year.
The most powerful nations took advantage of their purchasing power and investments in vaccine development to secure supplies of the coveted antidote.
So far, about 12.7 billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines have been pre-purchased, enough to vaccinate approximately 6.6 billion people (except for Johnson & Johnson’s, all vaccines approved so far require two doses).
More than half of those doses, 4.2 billion insured, with the option to buy another 2.5 billion, have been purchased by wealthy countries that are home to only 1.2 billion people.
Canada has bought enough doses to inoculate every Canadian five times, while the U.S., U.K., EU, EU, Australia, New Zealand and Chile have bought enough to vaccinate their citizens at least twice, although some of the vaccines have not yet been approved.
Israel struck a deal for 10 million doses and a promise of a steady supply from Pfizer in exchange for data on vaccine recipients. According to reports, the country also paid $30 per dose, double the price paid by the EU.
As Irene Bernal, a researcher on access to medicines at the NGO Salud por Derecho, told the newspaper El País last December, “we are seeing that whoever has the money is the one who has the access. We have kept 53% of the vaccines for 14% of the population, the rich. And the companies have a limited production capacity, so when are the doses going to reach the poorest countries?”
Low- and middle-income countries, with 84% of the world’s population, have made deals directly with pharmaceutical companies, but have so far secured only 32% of the supply.
“We are in such a massive crisis,” said Fatima Hassan, founder of the South African Health Justice Initiative. “If even in South Africa we can’t vaccinate half our population soon, I can’t even imagine how Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia and the rest of Africa will cope. If this is going to go on for another three years, we won’t get any kind of continental or global immunity.”
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard have asked the U.S. authorities to allow them to acquire part of the tens of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines produced in the United States, which Washington has stockpiled without having approved the use of this drug. Other countries that have already authorized this vaccine are begging to have them.
Mexico, one of the countries with the largest presence of COVID-19, has so far administered some 4.4 million doses using Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac and Sputnik V vaccines, in a population of more than 128 million inhabitants, which means a low vaccination rate, according to the website www.ourworldindata.org managed by the University of Oxford.
The most current statistics from this observatory show the low proportion and unequal distribution of the number of fully vaccinated people (with all the necessary doses) in the world:
According to data collected by Bloomberg, as of Thursday, more than 410 million doses of anti-COVID vaccines have been administered worldwide in some 132 countries. This represents just 2.7% of the world’s population.
|% of population|
|Country||Doses administered||Enough for % of people||given 1+ dose||fully vaccinated||Daily rate of doses administered|
Scientists and activists warn that we are heading towards a “vaccine apartheid” in which people in the global South will be vaccinated years later than those in the West.
Not only will poorer countries be forced to wait, but many are already being charged much higher prices per dose. Uganda, for example, has announced a deal for millions of vaccines from AstraZeneca, at a price of $7 a dose, more than three times what the European Union paid for it. Including transport fees, it will cost $17 to fully vaccinate a Ugandan.
The effects of this inequity would be severe. A model developed by Northeastern University indicates that if the first 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines were distributed proportionally by national population, deaths worldwide would be reduced by 61%. But if the doses are monopolized by 47 of the world’s richest countries, only 33% fewer people would be saved.
Scientists are also concerned that if there are countries that will not be able to immunize a large part of the population, there will be more opportunities for the virus to continue mutating and deaths will increase in these under-vaccinated countries, making the available vaccines less effective over time.
As WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted earlier this year, “…we face a real danger that, while vaccines bring hope to some, they become one more brick in the wall of inequality between those who have resources and those who do not.”
The difficulty in securing vaccine supply will make many poorer countries dependent on Covax, an organization created in April 2020, coordinated by WHO, the Coalition for Innovations in Epidemic Preparedness and GAVI, the international vaccine alliance.
Covax aims to administer 2 billion doses globally, including at least 1.3 billion for 92 low- and middle-income countries, by the end of 2021. This would be enough to inoculate 20% of each country’s population, with priority given to healthcare workers, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, although that target has been criticized as inadequate to deal with the pandemic.
Analysts estimate instead that Covax will at most provide between 650 million and 950 million doses, divided among 145 nations, including some of those with enough confirmed agreements for the vaccines to vaccinate their citizens multiple times such as Canada and New Zealand.
The pharmaceuticals have not delivered on their promises to COVAX and AstraZeneca, which was the main supplier is also facing its own particular situation of millions of doses withheld in the US and Europe.
Germany suspended vaccination with AstraZeneca as of Monday 15. Photo: EPA Even the European Union is frustrated by the obstacles they have encountered in vaccinating their population. The only European vaccine so far, the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, is in serious trouble after reports of some 30 cases of clotting problems in people immunized with the injectable. There are already 13 EU countries that have suspended vaccination with AstaZeneca, despite the fact that the WHO and the European regulatory agency defend its use as having more benefits than harmful impact.
To make matters worse, in the midst of the flare-up in the region, AstraZeneca had only delivered 25% of the agreed doses to the EU for the first quarter and Pfizer was also behind in its deliveries. In early 2021 Italy threatened to sue Pfizer for reducing by 29% the distribution of doses in that country. Now the European Commission announces that it has reached an agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech to bring forward 10 million doses for the second quarter of the year.
Despite the fact that BioNtech and CureVac are German, this European country has had problems with vaccination. The daily Der Spiegel pointed out a few weeks ago that “the European Union and Germany could run short of vaccine supplies. The delay in signing contracts with pharmaceutical companies could mean that the vaccines arrive late, as well as not being sufficient”.
The EU has so far administered 11 doses per 100 people, compared with 33 doses in the US and 39 doses in the UK, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker index.
The low availability and unequal distribution within the European Union has led countries such as Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia and Latvia to publicly express their discomfort and ask for a “correction” in the distribution.
In view of the dilemma, the European Commission determined that the pharmaceutical companies which have vaccine factories in EU territories will not be able to export the products they generate to other regions if they do not receive permission to take them out of the country from the authorities of those nations.
Already on March 4, Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, took advantage of this EU decision to ban the export to Australia of 250,000 doses of Astrazeneca’s vaccine, which the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company produced at its factory in Agnani, near Rome.
As frustrations grow more intense, some European officials are blaming the United States and the United Kingdom. European Council President Charles Michel said the U.S., along with Britain, “have imposed a total ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components that are produced on their territory.”
Asked about this, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters that vaccine manufacturers were free to export their U.S.-made products as long as they met the terms of their contracts with the [U.S.] government.
But because AstraZeneca’s vaccine was produced with help from the Defense Production Act, for which it received more than $1 billion in funding, Biden has to approve overseas shipments of its doses.
The most powerful countries have put pharmaceutical profits above global immunity, despite political discourse that there will be no solution to the pandemic unless it is corralled worldwide.
Last week, on the same day marking one year since WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the US, EU, UK and Canada (all with sufficient vaccines secured) blocked the latest attempt by poor or middle-income nations to speed access to vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 by temporarily lifting World Trade Organization rules protecting intellectual property.
A resolution sponsored by South Africa and India and backed by 57 countries, which called for suspending during the pandemic parts of the TRIPS (Trade Related Protections for Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement that protects medical patents, was rejected by the bloc of rich nations. It had already met the same fate in discussions at the WTO in October and December 2020.
An agreement would have allowed underdeveloped or emerging nations to produce COVID drugs and vaccines without waiting for or adhering to licensing agreements with pharmaceutical companies that own the intellectual property of these medical products. This would have expanded the production of antidotes against the lethal disease and lowered treatment costs.
The governments of wealthy nations, the majority financiers of the anti-COVID vaccines, based their refusal on concerns that the release of intellectual property, even temporarily, could reduce incentives for corporate research and also questioned whether “developing” nations could begin production of the drugs soon enough to prevent the spread of the virus.
The truth is that Big Pharma multinationals were initially reluctant to fund COVID vaccine research because of the uncertainty of a race against time to get results and because of the poor cost-effectiveness of creating vaccines for health emergencies in the past.
The drugs sought by these companies are primarily those offered to citizens of wealthy countries, and especially those needed for chronic diseases requiring routine doses, which make them highly profitable.
But after they have seen the profitability that the durability in time of COVID-19 can leave them, they do not want now any limit to the “party” of income that they are enjoying in view of the urgent demand for vaccines.
Moderna reported that it has signed advance purchase agreements for more than US$18 billion for supplies to be delivered this year, while Pfizer projected nearly US$15 billion in revenues this year for its vaccine with BioNTech.
The main vaccine developers have benefited from billions of dollars in public subsidies, yet pharmaceutical companies have been granted a monopoly over their production, as well as over the profits they generate.
The prices at which vaccines are sold to different countries (they vary) are kept under the veil of secrecy of the agreements signed between pharmaceutical companies and governments, although the specialized website Statista has calculated the average price per dose at these amounts:
Multiply those numbers by the billions of doses required every x years (depending on the length of time these vaccines achieve immunity) and you can calculate how much the dance of the millions will amount to.
But, while pharmaceutical companies profit and control the pace and scope of vaccinations, the costs of the unequal distribution of vaccines to the global economy could be as high as $9 billion, according to Katie Gallogly-Swan, a researcher working with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
“It is unconscionable that in the midst of a global health crisis, huge multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies continue to prioritize profits, protect their monopolies and raise prices, instead of prioritizing the lives of people everywhere, including the Global South, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders aptly tweeted a few days ago.
“The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure” has written the Director-General of the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, over here, we cross our fingers for Soberana and Abdala to immunize all of us, without distinction, before this year expires.
Updated 2021-03-18 05:03:44 | Spanish. xinhuanet. com
By Raul Menchaca
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
HAVANA, Mar. 17 (Xinhua) — Cuba has set up a score of hotels, mostly in Havana, as isolation centers where travelers arriving from abroad spend a few days until confirming that they are not infected with the new coronavirus.
Since the beginning of February and in view of a third outbreak of the pandemic, the authorities determined the isolation of these travelers, who must also present a negative molecular biology test, the so-called PCR test, carried out 72 hours before their arrival in Cuba.
The isolation has two modalities since there are paid hotels for foreigners and Cubans who opt for them and free centers only for Cubans, but with less comfort.
Travelers remain isolated for five nights until they know the results of the PCR test performed at the airports and another one at the hotel, where they also have daily sanitary control, since in each facility there is a doctor and a nurse, who twice a day examine each traveler.
“It’s a little stressful to be locked up, but I understand that it is the sanitary protocol to protect us and others,” Cuban Yosvany Barrios, who lives in the southern United States and returned to the island to spend a few days with his wife, who is four months pregnant, told Xinhua.
Barrios, a construction contractor, who stayed at the downtown Havana hotel NH Capri, said he feels safe with these measures, which help him “also to take care of my wife and the future baby”.
This opinion is shared by Jorge Carmona, another Cuban who also lives in the United States and who said he understands the need for these restrictions, despite the fact that it is uncomfortable to be locked up for so many days.
Visitors are not allowed to leave their rooms, pending the result of the PCR test, and can only leave them when it is confirmed that they are not infected.
“This prevents contact between people and therefore transmission,” said Dr. Juan Carlos Vidaud, an intensivist who usually works in a Havana hospital, but who with the arrival of the pandemic has been assigned to health surveillance at the NH Capri Hotel, where more than 100 people are staying.
For a month and a half, Vidaud has attended to more than 200 travelers staying at the hotel and explained that only four have tested positive for COVID-19, which has activated a rigorous emergency plan to transfer them to hospitals where they received specialized medical care.
It is a new reality for the now depressed Cuban tourism sector, once the second-largest contributor of foreign currency to the island, with some 3.1 billion dollars annually, only surpassed by the export of medical services, but today hard hit by the pandemic.
“We have a different clientele than we had before. There is a pre-COVID client and now there is a post-COVID client,” said Spain’s Juan Francisco Candeal, general manager of the NH Capri and NH Victoria hotels.
Candeal, a man of vast experience in the hotel industry, noted that the facilities he manages have modified more than 700 actions to conform to a strict sanitary protocol and protect clients and workers.
“I think that within this great misfortune that we are all going through, it has been a great improvement for the tourism industry,” said the executive of the Spanish chain.
Cuban authorities had closed the borders in April last year, but reopened them on November 1, which with the massive arrival of travelers for the end-of-year holidays gave rise to the current third outbreak of the disease on the island.
Therefore, at the beginning of February, in addition to the sanitary protocol in airports, the list of countries with restricted regular flights was extended to include the United States, Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Colombia and Jamaica, and connections with Nicaragua, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname were suspended.
Measures such as the suspension of the school year and the closure of public places such as theaters, bars and restaurants were also applied throughout the country.
In Havana, the main source of transmission of the disease, the authorities are maintaining restrictive sanitary measures that include limiting circulation from 21:00 local time until 5:00 hours the following day, as well as severe fines for those who do not use or misuse masks.
Since the Sars-CoV-2 virus, which causes the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), was first recorded on the island a year ago, Cuba has accumulated 63,725 infected people and 380 deaths.
By Maribel Acosta Damas. Cuban journalist, specialized in Television. She is a professor at the Faculty of Journalism of the University of Havana and holds a PhD in Communication Sciences.
March 12, 2021
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Posted: Saturday 27 February 2021 | 08:16:08 pm.
Author: Marina Menéndez Quintero | email@example.com
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Assets, buildings and even military bases. What no country would put at stake, should serve as a guarantee against possible legal claims…
Abusive demands, some said; others sniffed out a hypothetical ulterior motive, and third parties even concluded that such far-reaching forecasts showed too much distrust of the manufacturer’s own product.
What is palpable is that the revelations about the unimaginable conditions that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer has imposed on Latin American countries in order to sell its vaccine against COVID-19, are a clear illustration of the concerns expressed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and by the UN Secretary General himself, about the difficulties that poor nations will have to face in order to immunize their populations.
“I must be frank: the world is on the brink of catastrophic moral failure, and the price of this failure will be paid in the lives and livelihoods of the poorest countries,” warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, last month, drawing attention to the huge inequality in access to vaccines around the world.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated warnings about how inequity caused by the unfair global economic order and lack of cooperation will once again prey on the poor – now in the face of a deadly threat as direct as the pandemic – when he criticized what he called the “grossly unequal and unfair” distribution of the vaccine.
At that time, he pointed out, only ten countries had administered 75 percent of all the doses distributed worldwide, while more than 130 countries had yet to receive a single dose.
In this context, the revelations made public a few days ago by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) – a news organization dedicated to investigative journalism based in London – and the Peruvian media Ojo Público, based in Lima, about the difficult negotiations of nations such as Argentina and Brazil to acquire the vaccine produced by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, acquire support.
Their harsh and unusual demands illustrate the additional obstacles that resource-poor nations, including those more solvent ones that have not produced their own vaccine, may face, beyond the lack of current money.
As the journalistic investigation acknowledged, “most governments offer indemnification (exemption from legal liability) to the vaccine manufacturers they buy from.”
That is, the government would pay for any lawsuits against the manufacturer that a vaccinated person might file. “This is fairly typical of vaccines administered in a pandemic,” he noted, even though adverse effects are very rare.
However, Pfizer’s demands for Argentina and another nation, whose representatives have remained anonymous because negotiations are continuing, went further, asking for additional indemnification against any claims, officials in Buenos Aires said.
After representatives of the southern cone nation had negotiated difficult requirements that demanded changes in its legislation, Pfizer went so far as to demand “that the sovereign assets be part of the legal backing,” said a participant in the negotiation.
This happened at the end of December. It involved the Argentine government putting up its sovereign assets – which could include federal bank reserves, embassy buildings or military bases – as collateral against potential claims.
“We offered to pay millions of doses in advance, we accepted this international insurance, but the last request was extraordinary (…). It was an extreme demand that I had only heard when it was necessary to negotiate the foreign debt; but in that case, as in this one, we rejected it immediately”, the source affirmed.
Similar conditions were imposed to countries such as Brazil, where there were no agreements until today.
According to a message on Twitter by Misión Verdad, nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have reached agreements with Pfizer.
Although the tweet states that “the terms of these commercial agreements are not known” -and in truth it is information that in many cases is confidential-, the investigation by The Bureau… and Ojo Público gives an account of the rigors faced by Peru, and the “set of binding conditions” that it had to sign to close the agreement.
These included a supreme executive decree by which the nation committed to submit to international arbitration if disputes arose in the contracts for the purchase of the lots. At the same time, Peru waived “the sovereign immunity of the State for the enforcement of an arbitration decision”.
Contacted by The Bureau…, Pfizer declined to discuss the ongoing private negotiations, but argued that it has allocated doses to low- and middle-income countries at not-for-profit prices, including an advance purchase agreement to supply up to 40 million doses to Covax: a UN-sponsored project, and the only one worldwide that aims to facilitate access to vaccines for poor countries.
Meanwhile, vaccines that were initially viewed with apprehension, such as the Russian Sputnik V, are increasingly being used in Latin American countries.
Although Mexico has also acquired the Pfizer vaccine, in a message published on Twitter on the 23rd, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard thanked President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Foreign Minister and the Ambassador in his country “for their support in making possible the arrival of Sputnik V vaccines to our country. Mexico-Russia friendship grows stronger,” he wrote. More than 20 million doses arrived from Moscow, far exceeding the thousands of vaccines from other companies that had arrived until then.
It is known that Sputnik V has also been acquired by Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia and Bolivia. In Peru its acquisition has been recommended and it has been reported that Brazil is planning to buy it, while it was expected to arrive in Chile. Reports state that in Ecuador contacts have been maintained with suppliers.
Meanwhile, reports from the Russian Embassy in Mexico state that the Russian Direct Investment Fund is looking for allies to produce Sputnik V in that Latin American nation.
In the midst of so much selfishness, the purpose could be evidence of humanistic logic. Mexico is the second country in the Americas with the second highest death rate from COVID-19.
But there is no shortage of people who appreciate the growing presence of Sputnik V as an expression of Moscow’s growing influence in the region.
Cooperation is needed
One hundred and eighty nations have endorsed the Covax initiative, which needs the help of rich countries to provide the funds to buy the drug. Ghana became the first country to receive a batch this week.
However, the pace may be very slow. According to officials involved in the initiative, the aim through Covax is to be able to vaccinate just 20 percent of the most vulnerable population in each participating country by the end of this year.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance coalition, a network of organizations including Amnesty International, Oxfam and Global Justice Now, estimates that nearly 70 low-income countries could vaccinate only one in ten citizens.
The response from potential donors is still not registering at the required level. Dr. Tedros explained that vaccines can only be delivered to Covax member countries if rich nations cooperate and honor contracts, referring to commitments made by the United States and the European Union to significantly increase their contribution.
On the other hand, regional solidarity initiatives are trying to help and could be very effective if they were more generalized.
An example of cooperation actions that could help is provided by ALBA-TCP (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and the Peoples’ Trade Agreement), whose Bank announced in December – by the decision of the most recent Summit – the creation of a modest fund of two million dollars as financial relief to member countries that needed to acquire the vaccine and had not concluded negotiations with the supplying companies due to lack of money.
The availability or otherwise of the vaccine by all nations will be absolutely decisive in the planet’s triumph over the pandemic. Faced with COVID-19, we will either all emerge or we will all stagnate.
Published: Thursday 04 February 2021 | 11:43:53 pm.
Author: Ana Maria Dominguez Cruz
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
The confidence that Cuba will be one of the first countries that will be able to immunize its entire population from its existing capacities of production and distribution of vaccines against COVID-19 came this Thursday at the Round Table, dedicated to the subject.
Eduardo Martínez Díaz, president of BioCubaFarma, explained this while speaking on the radio-TV program, together with Marta Ayala Ávila, general director of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology; Vicente Vérez Bencomo, general director of the Finlay Institute of Vaccines, and Eduardo Ojito Magaz, general director of the Center for Molecular Immunology.
Likewise, Mr. Martínez Díaz pointed out that they have already been analyzed and organized for their programming until next December, once the studies of the four vaccine candidates yield the expected satisfactory results.
He said that our scientists are working on four vaccine candidates at the same time because they all use the same type of antigen, so that the desired immune response can be achieved in all cases.
In addition, he explained that all the genetic information has been inserted in bacteria, yeast and cells of higher organisms, such as mammals, and that in the latest variants encouraging results were achieved which allowed advancing in that direction. Each one will differentiate the formulation of the vaccines, based on platforms used in previous vaccines with marked effectiveness and safety.
The President of BioCubaFarma said that “the vaccines are working well”, but we still cannot say that they are effective, “that is why we have to continue with the studies. We cannot bet on a variant and then the studies not give the expected results. In that case, we would have to start all over again”.
He emphasized that the production of several vaccines could be deployed at the same time, in case the expected results were obtained in all of them, and then the doses would be studied, according to each population group, as well as the possibility of assigning some of them to the treatment of COVID-19 convalescents.
He pointed out that, as an advantage, Cuban vaccines do not require large refrigeration chains, but temperatures of two to eight degrees Celsius. In addition, they allow for the application of successive booster doses, which is essential in view of the appearance of new variants of the virus.
Martinez Diaz insisted that it is not possible to acquire vaccines produced by other countries because there is not enough quantity to do so. “To date, only 108 million doses have been applied, which means that only a little more than one percent of the population has been vaccinated. Only 13 countries have applied more than one million doses of vaccine, including the United States and China.”
He stressed the need for an increase in the global vaccination rate and for prices to fall, so that the entire population has the possibility of protecting itself, including those living in poor countries.
COMMENTS ON WEB PAGE (Unedited):
Friday 05 February 2021 | 07:42:28 am.
Friday 05 February 2021 | 08:22:45 am.
Bravo for Cuba. congratulations to all Cuban scientists.
Friday 05 February 2021 | 09:58:48 am.
The incorrect headline should read CUBA will vaccinate 100 percent of the population at the conclusion of clinical trials because you dare to anticipate events without having an idea of the effectiveness of the current vaccine projects It is very easy to write without delving into the matter and violate international procedures this can steal much credibility to the work of all scientists of our nation and I’m sure you do not have the information on the percentage of effectiveness and immunological load generated by such vaccine candidates.
Friday 05 February 2021 | 12:59:33 pm.
Hi all. I believe and trust in Cuban science and also in the managers and scientists who are in charge. If they say so it is because they know. My congratulations and hopefully they will be ready and only when they should be, not in a hurry. Greetings, Leo
Friday 05 February 2021 | 02:43:30 pm.
I trust in Cuban medicine, in our scientists, in the Revolution. Thank you for the effort you make every day.
Zuleika machado gomez
Friday 05 February 2021 | 06:30:39 pm.
I would like to congratulate the collective of scientists as always putting their intellect and dedication in favor of the health of our people. Let’s hope that our people continue to comply with the measures because unfortunately there are many irresponsible people who discard the established measures putting at risk their health and that of others. Without thinking that there are so many people involved in this fight who spend many days away from their families the medical and paramedical personnel who are on the front line to the cooks nurses drivers etc who are also working and can be infected who have families . To them our most sincere respect. And to the scientists of this important project a thousand blessings. And our immense gratitude . ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????♥️♥️♥️♥️
Friday 05 February 2021 | 11:11:21 pm.
The universal desire to be able to have the certainty of being vaccinated efficiently and effectively against Covid is immediate, but the certainty of Cuban scientists that we will have our population and who knows how many more internationally as usual is firm and certain. Congratulations to our scientists. I trust
Saturday 06 February 2021 | 11:21:25 am.
Israel has already vaccinated 80 ? of its population and for free, Cuba may vaccinate its entire population but still can not be given time, we must first confirm the results of their vaccines. Let’s not be sensationalist, let’s stick to reality, so that we don’t see previous campaigns on various issues that later are not fulfilled.
Saturday 06 February 2021 | 12:46:17 pm.
Since we will be among the first who will be the other nations at the top of that list and with which vaccines have they procured vaccination?
Traducido por Walter Lippmann por CubaNews.
Paul Alexander, uno de los pocos supervivientes que quedan, pasa casi todo el día dentro de su pulmón de acero.
En 1952, cuando yo era muy joven, el miedo se apoderó de mi pequeño pueblo en Catskills y también de todo Estados Unidos. Ese año, sesenta mil niños se vieron afectados por el virus de la poliomielitis, que dejó 3.000 muertos y a miles más paralizados. Algunos niños fueron mantenidos con vida en un pulmón de hierro que funcionaba como el ventilador de hoy en día, pero que los mantenía confinados en un virtual ataúd viviente.
A ese verano lo llamaron la “estación de la polio”. En Woodridge, teníamos el lago Kaplan, un estanque mas bien, en el que nadaban los niños de por allí. Yo iba allí principalmente a caminar cerca de la playa. Un verano, nuestros padres nos dijeron que lo iban a cerrar por la epidemia de la polio. También nos advirtieron que no nos sentáramos demasiado cerca en los cines, un verdadero problema cuando la última película de Martin y Lewis tenía a los niños haciendo cola alrededor de la manzana para comprar una entrada en el Lyceum Theater de Woodridge.
FDR fue probablemente la víctima de la poliomielitis más conocida en Estados Unidos, pero muchos otros padecieron la enfermedad, como Neil Young y Francis Ford Coppola, que tuvieron casos más leves. Patrick Cockburn, nacido en 1950, enfermó de polio a los seis años. En 2005 escribió un libro sobre su experiencia, titulado “The Broken Boy” (El chico roto). En una entrevista con NPR ese año, el presentador le dijo: “Te quedó una cojera, una cojera severa. Pero usted entrevistó a otros supervivientes que estaban realmente mucho peor”. Cockburn respondió:
Sí, muchos de ellos. Un hombre que se convirtió en empresario tuvo que aprender a firmar su nombre con los dientes, con un bolígrafo clavado en los dientes y un aparato especial. A muchos otros les afectó la espalda, los pulmones y las piernas. Pero mucha gente se defendió. Conocí a un agricultor que tenía miedo de que cuando volviera a casa, por estar tan lisiado, la gente no lo aceptara. Pero, en realidad, su familia -y las familias irlandesas son muy fuertes- readaptó la granja para que pudiera manejar la maquinaria agrícola, para que pudiera ser un agricultor trabajador. Y muchas otras personas lucharon contra dificultades extraordinarias.
Para muchos médicos, el objetivo de desarrollar una vacuna para prevenir la polio se convirtió en algo primordial. FDR fundó la Fundación Nacional para la Parálisis Infantil en 1938 y promovió la Marcha de las Monedas de 10 centavos para la investigación de la polio. Cuando Harry Truman llegó a la presidencia, se comprometió a luchar contra la poliomielitis utilizando un lenguaje que recordaba al New Deal de los años 30:
La lucha contra la parálisis infantil no puede ser una guerra local. Debe ser a nivel nacional. Debe ser una guerra total en cada ciudad, pueblo y aldea del país. Porque sólo con un frente unido podemos esperar ganar cualquier guerra.
Dos médicos investigadores, judíos de Nueva York, fueron fundamentales en el desarrollo de una vacuna. Ninguno de ellos vio esto como una forma de hacerse rico. Su objetivo era únicamente salvar la vida de los niños.
Nacido en Nueva York en 1914, Jonas Salk desarrolló en 1955 una vacuna basada en virus muertos de la polio. El respaldo a su proyecto fue universal, con 100 millones de contribuyentes a la Marcha de las Monedas de 10 centavos, y 7 millones de voluntarios caminando por las calles con el emblemático banco colector.
Salk podría haber ganado millones patentando la vacuna, pero prefirió que estuviera lo más disponible posible. Cuando acudió al popular programa “Person to Person” de Edward R. Murrow, el presentador le preguntó a quién pertenecía la patente. Salk respondió: “Bueno, yo diría que a la gente. No hay ninguna patente. ¿Podría usted patentar el sol?” (Si se hubiera patentado, valdría 7.000 millones de dólares).
Da la casualidad de que Salk se graduó en el CCNY, un semillero de radicalismo en la década de 1930. No es de extrañar que J. Edgar Hoover tuviera su número. Cinco años antes de que presentara la vacuna, fue objeto de una investigación del FBI. Al escribirle a Dillon Anderson, uno de los más cercanos ayudantes de Eisenhower, Hoover recapituló sus transgresiones:
•Tres asociados no identificados de Salk, profesores de la Universidad de Michigan, dijeron que durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial Salk contribuyó a la ayuda de guerra para la Unión Soviética y fue “muy abierto” en sus elogios a ese país. Los asociados dijeron que Salk elogió los avances técnicos del país, mientras que su esposa, Donna, era aún más abierta en sus elogios a todos los aspectos de la vida soviética, escribió Hoover.
•Uno de los asociados profesionales de Salk en la U-M en la década de 1940 dijo que Salk estaba “muy a la izquierda del centro”. Otro asociado señaló que una organización liberal de la que Salk fue tesorero en 1946 se convirtió en “izquierdista” bajo el liderazgo de Salk.
•Salk y su esposa se inscribieron para votar al Partido Laborista Americano a principios de la década de 1940, dice la carta. Según un informante, el Partido Comunista se convirtió en una fuerza de control del ALP dentro de las áreas de la ciudad de Nueva York durante ese tiempo.
•Un informante informó que el hermano de Salk, Lee, era miembro del Partido Comunista en Ann Arbor en 1948.
•Según un informante, dijo Hoover, el nombre de Salk apareció en la lista de correo de la Conferencia de Nueva York por los Derechos Inalienables en 1941. El grupo fue citado como fachada comunista por el Comité de Actividades Antiamericanas de la Cámara de Representantes.
Nacido como Albert Saperstein en Bialystok, Polonia, en 1906, Albert Sabin se licenció en medicina en la Universidad de Nueva York, al igual que Salk. A diferencia de Salk, el objetivo de Sabin era desarrollar una vacuna basada en el virus debilitado de la polio. Ambas vacunas funcionaron, pero la de Sabin tenía la ventaja de poder tomarse por vía oral y ser más duradera.
Desafiando la histeria de la Guerra Fría, Sabin trabajó estrechamente con médicos y científicos del bloque soviético, lo que le valió la reputación de trabajar en una “vacuna comunista”. En un artículo titulado “La vacunación y el Estado comunista: la poliomielitis en Europa del Este”, Dora Vargha concluye que los Estados comunistas eran capaces de “hacer cosas buenas”, como ha dicho Bernie Sanders:
Tanto Oriente como Occidente compartían la percepción de lo que era el Estado comunista y su papel ideal en la prevención de la poliomielitis. Tras la aparición y la aplicación con éxito de las vacunas con poliovirus vivos, los estados de Europa del Este se consideraron especialmente aptos para lograr la eficacia en la contención -y erradicación- de la poliomielitis gracias a su participación en el desarrollo de la vacuna y su distribución. Occidente, aunque no respaldaba ideológicamente estos regímenes políticos, estaba de acuerdo. De hecho, Checoslovaquia, Hungría y Polonia se convirtieron en pioneros en la introducción, prueba y aplicación de vacunas de poliovirus vivo a escala masiva, mientras que sus pares de Europa del Este se apresuraron a seguirles en la vacunación masiva.
Desde una perspectiva geopolítica más amplia, la poliomielitis planteó cuestiones incómodas sobre el lado positivo de los regímenes comunistas (es decir, el control eficaz de las epidemias) y en poco tiempo llegó a simbolizar la ciencia “neutral” que rompía las barreras entre Oriente y Occidente. La organización vertical de los ensayos de vacunas y la inmunización, que en aquel momento se consideraba especialmente comunista y de Europa del Este, también pasó a considerarse la forma más eficaz de erradicar la poliomielitis a escala mundial.
Sabin continuó colabronado con las demonizadas sociedades post-capitalistas mucho tiempo después. En un artículo de 2014 titulado “Epidemias y oportunidades de colaboración entre Estados Unidos y Cuba”, Marguerite Jiménez describió su perspectiva internacionalista:
Varios años después de su apertura a la colaboración con la Unión Soviética, Sabin puso sus ojos en un colaborador comunista mucho más pequeño, uno que estaba mucho más cerca de casa. Sabin había viajado a Cuba varias veces antes de la revolución cubana de 1959, pero no había podido volver desde principios de los años cincuenta. A pesar de haber recibido múltiples invitaciones de funcionarios de salud pública de la isla a principios de la década de 1960, la escalada de las hostilidades entre Estados Unidos y Cuba hizo casi imposible una visita de tan alto perfil por parte de un famoso científico estadounidense.
La entusiasta búsqueda de Sabin de oportunidades de colaboración con la Unión Soviética durante la década de 1950 presagió sus esfuerzos en Cuba por superar los obstáculos políticos y el melodrama diplomático. En consecuencia, a finales de 1965, cuando el Departamento de Estado anunció una relajación de las restricciones a los viajes a las naciones comunistas por parte de ciertas categorías de profesionales, Sabin aprovechó rápidamente la oportunidad. El Departamento de Estado informó de que la relajación había respondido a la “insistencia de la comunidad médica” y se había hecho por razones de “humanidad” para promover una mayor cooperación internacional en la lucha contra las enfermedades. Aunque la investigación médica justificaba el carácter humanitario de la medida, el New York Times informó de que “la esperanza en los círculos oficiales era que los científicos médicos pudieran abrir la puerta a una cooperación más estrecha en otras áreas científicas.” Sabin envió inmediatamente copias del anuncio a sus colegas en Cuba y en veinticuatro horas recibió una invitación a través de la Misión Permanente de Cuba ante las Naciones Unidas.
Finalmente, tras casi dos años de planificación, Sabin llegó a La Habana el 4 de diciembre de 1967. Durante su estancia en Cuba, tuvo la oportunidad de visitar y reunirse con personas de una amplia gama de instituciones científicas y médicas, así como de hospitales, policlínicas e instalaciones de investigación. Aunque otros elementos de su viaje se hicieron públicos gracias a un puñado de artículos periodísticos sobre el tema publicados tanto en Estados Unidos como en Cuba, lo que no es comúnmente conocido es que durante su viaje, Sabin se reunió con Antonio Núñez Jiménez, un joven y prominente líder dentro del régimen de Fidel Castro y presidente de la Academia de Ciencias de Cuba. Sabin describió a Jiménez como una persona “de armas tomar” y “muy agradable”.
Ayer me acordé de Salk y Sabin tras leer un informe del Instituto de Investigación Sunnybrook, un hospital asociado a la Universidad de Toronto. Titulado “El equipo de investigación ha aislado el virus COVID-19”, revelaba que el Dr. Robert Kozak, la Dra. Samira Mubareka y el Dr. Arinjay Banerjee habían aislado el coronavirus del síndrome respiratorio agudo severo 2 (SARS-CoV-2), el agente responsable del actual brote de COVID-19.
Esa información sería fundamental para desarrollar una vacuna. Al describir su descubrimiento, Arinjay Banerjee se mostró muy en la tradición Salk/Sabin: “Ahora que hemos aislado el virus del SRAS-CoV-2, podemos compartirlo con otros investigadores y seguir trabajando en equipo. Cuantos más virus estén disponibles de este modo, más podremos aprender, colaborar y compartir.”
Colaborar y compartir. Eso no sólo es necesario para superar el COVID-19, sino para salvar al mundo de la destrucción capitalista.
Farhad Manjoo, uno de los únicos columnistas de opinión del New York Times que se pueden leer, estaba en lo cierto cuando escribió que “todo el mundo es socialista en una pandemia”. Escribió:
Puede haber un resquicio de esperanza: ¿Y si el virus obliga a los estadounidenses y a sus representantes a reconocer la fuerza de un ethos colectivista? El coronavirus, de hecho, ofrece algo así como un anticipo de muchas de las amenazas a las que podríamos enfrentarnos por los peores efectos del cambio climático. Como el virus no discrimina y es casi ineludible, nos deja a todos, ricos y pobres, en el mismo barco: La única manera de que cualquiera de nosotros esté realmente protegido es si el más pequeño de nosotros está protegido.
Author: Juana Carrasco Martin
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Oxfam has been adamant that the combined wealth of the world’s ten richest people could pay for vaccines to immunize the entire world. At the same time, the International Labor Organization stated in a report that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused the loss of 255 million jobs.
Social inequity, unequal opportunities to access goods and services such as housing, education or health are among the consequences of the world’s health situation, where more than 103 million people have fallen ill and more than two million have died, and the count continues, while the vaccines already in use, which are not enough and are the object of disputes between first world countries that can afford them and are among their manufacturers, do not seem to be distributed fairly….
Those who have called it the virus of inequality are right. Here are some data that prove it.
The Oxfam report is titled “The Inequality Virus: Reuniting a coronavirus-torn world through a fair, just and sustainable economy,” and it announces all that it means and is needed.
Paul O’Brien, vice president of Oxfam America, in an interview with Democracy Now, noted of the pandemic situation: “The 10 richest people ended up making half a trillion dollars during the pandemic. The richest thousand got back all the money they lost in the pandemic, and they reached the same level of wealth in nine months. But at the same time, it has been disastrous for people at the extreme end of poverty.”
The report of this international confederation of 19 non-governmental organizations, which carry out humanitarian work in 90 countries under the slogan “working with others to combat poverty and suffering”, as they describe it on the Internet, warns that in the face of these exorbitant profits of billionaires, poor people will not recover from the economic and health crisis for at least a decade. If it does, it should be noted.
“In every country we looked at, inequality has worsened during the pandemic,” O’Brien added.
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) pointed out that this economic crisis and the slow exit from it will lead to the closure of 2.7 million companies in the region alone and some 8.5 million more workers will lose their jobs, in an emergency that by 2020 had already led to a significant drop in growth and economic contraction.
The economic recovery will be fragile and uneven, is the sharp forecast of ECLAC; the painful conclusion for millions of Latin Americans and Caribbeans who were already going through a limited growth, to which now add the consequences of the pandemic as the lower export of raw materials and the collapse of tourism, among other indices in decline.
ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, added other significant data in red: 54 percent of the region’s labor force does not have social protection or access to public health services.
Of this proportion, 57 percent are women, and this index added an aggravating factor that is reproduced in other regions of the world, even in developed countries. The International Labor Organization also brought its concerns to the 51st World Economic Forum in Davos, which met virtually this week and not in its usual snowy retreat in the Swiss Alps.
Globally, the pandemic cost workers $3.7 trillion in lost income and the destruction of the equivalent of 255 million jobs in 2020, four times the impact of the 2009 global financial crisis, the ILO reported.
But the summit meeting of politicians, businessmen and representatives of social and cultural organizations, which this time did not take place as usual in Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, did not exactly provide prodigious solutions at a peremptory moment for the planet. On the contrary, the widespread resurgence of the coronavirus, and even the new strains, highlighted the old weaknesses of health systems around the world, the injustices, the inaccessibility to medical care and vaccination that should be for everyone.
The slogan “The Great Reset” was crushed by an avalanche, and in this January 2021, as in the novel of the great writer, the problems discussed at the Davos Forum and the lack of intention to address them from what is fair, can be seen as the decadence of a way of life where the selfishness of those who only count profits in their finances over world health takes precedence.
The pandemic is conjunctural, although of extreme gravity. That is why its combination with structural problems, the same ones year after year, multiply the effects of inequity.
Check it out in these statements by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, when the bloc intensified stricter monitoring of vaccine exports to countries outside the union. This is the case of the United Kingdom, because they had invested billions of euros and that “companies must now deliver” their vaccines to the 27 member states. “… We will set up a transparency mechanism for vaccine exports. Europe is determined to contribute. But it also means business.”
Ultimately that is the transparent truth,. The EU is a union of high-income rich countries, home to 342 billionaires; however, 123 million people at risk of poverty also reside there, Oxfam reported.
So what should we leave for the always neglected Africa? Cyril Ramaphosa, president of the African Union and of South Africa – one of the countries most affected by the coronavirus and even contributing a new strain, apparently of greater spread and lethality -, during his speaks at the 51st edition of the Davos Economic Forum, rightly criticized what he defined as “vaccine nationalism”, that is, the implementation of this selfish and inhuman attitude of hoarding, which hinders an equitable distribution of vaccines. “The rich countries of the world went out and acquired large doses (…) Some even acquired up to four times more than what their population needs excluding other countries”, a denunciation that he joined to the substantial comment: an increase in poverty is “expected for the first time in decades” and added, “the challenges we face were not created by the virus, they were created by us”.
You and I are not “us”, it is clear who fall into that category in the current pandemic and in the ancestral ills of that continent, the most powerful nations of the world that were colonial or neo-colonial empires.
The AFP news agency commented in this regard that bilateral agreements between governments and companies manufacturing vaccines against the Covid-19 virus could raise the prices of the drug and limit its supply to some regions.
Of course, the EU is not alone in this hoarding, where the United States and Donald Trump’s promise-threat that his country would be the first to be immunized and the willingness to buy all the vaccines produced in the world takes the lead.
Ramaphosa ratified the necessary denunciation: “We are concerned about vaccine nationalism (…) The rich countries of the world are holding on to these vaccines and we say: release the excess vaccines you have ordered and stockpiled”.
Reuters reported these days that the United Kingdom ordered 367 million doses of seven different vaccines for its population of approximately 67 million inhabitants, and the European Union secured almost 2.3 billion doses for a population of 450 million inhabitants.
However, the African continent, with some 1.3 billion inhabitants, barely completed 600 million doses of the international vaccine Covax, under the aegis of the WHO, which is also being requested by the rich countries.
We are faced with the confirmed presence of inequality in the midst of the terrible coronavirus.
By: Randy Alonso Falcón
January 27, 2021
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
“It will not be an exhausted and outdated world order that can save humanity and create the indispensable natural conditions for a dignified and decent life on the planet. (…) This is not an ideological question; it is already a question of life or death for the human species.”
Fidel Castro Ruz
Speech at the Open Tribune of the Revolution, held in San José de las Lajas
January 27, 2001
Solidarity and Justice are still words in disuse even when the catastrophe concerns us all, like a great universal Titanic. A tiny and sticky virus has moved fears, shaken societies and health systems, provoked countless reflections on today and the future, but it has not succeeded in making equity and love for others prosper.
This week will mark the 100 millionth person infected with COVID-19 in the world and already more than 2 million people have died.
“Every day the gap between the haves and have-nots grows. The pandemic has reminded us that health and economics are linked and that we are all in the same boat. The pandemic will not end until it ends everywhere,” said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday.
The numbers bear incontrovertible witness to the expert’s assessment.
Despite numerous calls from the UN and various world leaders to seek a global response to the pandemic and to facilitate and share access to a cure for the disease, narrow views and deaf ears predominate.
“Science is succeeding, but solidarity is failing,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted on January 15. Several vaccines are already available worldwide to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but access to them is as deeply unequal as the world we inhabit.
Some 66.33 million doses have been administered to date, 93% of which were delivered in just 15 countries: the US, China, UK, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Germany, India, Italy, Turkey, Spain, France and Russia, according to the data analysis platform Our World in Data, based on figures from Oxford University.
In all of sub-Saharan Africa, only 25 doses of vaccine could be administered in Guinea. Populous countries like Nigeria, with 200 million inhabitants, are waiting for the first dose.
The same scramble that took place at the beginning of the pandemic with lung ventilators, masks and protective suits is now being staged with vaccines: hoarding, overpricing and speculation. “An immoral race to the bottom,” as the WHO’s top executive described it.
The COVAX fund, created as a sort of global effort to make vaccines accessible to the poorest nations or those with limited resources, announced that in February it will begin to deliver the first doses (they first said that in January), but it recognizes that it has been limited by the lucrative agreements of various individual nations with the pharmaceutical companies that produce the anti-COVID vaccines.
Another handicap has been the high cost of the vaccines that have the most international approval so far. As Norwegian expert John-Arne Rottingen told The Guardian, “The difficulty is that we really only have widespread international approval for marketing two vaccines: the two mRNA vaccines. The challenge is that one, the Moderna vaccine is very expensive, and the other, the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, which was first available and is now being applied in Europe, is moderately expensive compared to others, and requires a super cold chain. The price and cold chain makes it not the ideal vaccines for a global vaccine.”
While nations like India and South Africa are calling on the WHO to campaign for pharmaceutical companies to relinquish intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. That would allow other qualified manufacturers in the South to expand production of those antidotes; countries like the US, UK and Canada have opposed the initiative. Those three wealthy nations have purchased or reserved enough doses to inoculate their populations at least four times.
High-income countries account for 16% of the world’s population, but hold more than 60% of the vaccines purchased so far.
Rich countries account for the lion’s share of vaccine production. Graphic: The Guardian
Some forecasts put the total population of middle-income and poor countries that could be vaccinated this year at 27%. Duke University’s Center for Global Health Innovation estimates that there will not be enough vaccines to immunize the world’s population until at least 2023.
“The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure, and the price of this failure will be paid in lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” Dr. Tedros regretfully sentenced.
“Vaccine nationalism” is the exact reflection of an unequal and unjust world in which a few remain the great beneficiaries of wealth, for which billions must make do with the leftovers.
It is the “inequality virus” that OXFAM denounces in its most recent report, in which it evidences that the current failed economic system “allows a super-rich elite to continue to accumulate wealth in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, while billions of people face great hardship to get by.”
While billionaires saw their fortunes increase between March and December 2020 by a total volume of $3.9 trillion-to amass an unimaginable $11.95 trillion-the poorest people on the planet will need “more than a decade to recover from the economic impacts of the crisis” accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Racial differences have also deepened. In the United States, the most powerful nation on the planet, if mortality rates were equal to those of the white population, nearly 22,000 Latinos and blacks would not have died from the coronavirus outbreak. In Brazil, people of African descent are 40% more likely to die from COVID than whites.
One of the conclusions of the Oxfam report is that “the pandemic is likely to increase inequality in a way never seen before”. The World Bank has warned that, in the current context, more than 100 million people could reach extreme poverty.
The 10 richest men in the world saw their net worth increase by $540 billion in the pandemic 2020 period. That list is topped by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. It also includes luxury group LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault, Bill Gates and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. According to Oxfam, the money hoarded by these potentates would be enough to prevent people from falling into poverty due to the effects of the virus and would also guarantee a vaccine for everyone on the planet.
Among so much inequity and indifference, a small archipelago in the Caribbean, called Cuba, has been able to send thousands of doctors and nurses, in some 50 brigades of the “Henry Reeve” Internationalist Contingent, to more than thirty countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, to collaborate in the fight against the deadly disease.
Thousands of lives saved or recovered in a scenario of total complexity are the fruit of their solidarity work. The human and professional quality of these sons and daughters of the Cuban people overcomes the most diverse obstacles. It leaves a mark of affection, gratitude and example that is recognized by all those with whom they have shared and whom they have cared for.
That same country, with scarce economic resources but abundant in trained and educated talent, has been able to build an advanced biopharmaceutical industry, which is now preparing to produce 100 million doses of Soberana 02, one of the 4 vaccines on which its scientists are working. This would make it possible to immunize the entire Cuban population (it would be one of the first countries to achieve this) and to have more than 70 million doses available for other peoples of the South. There are already countries interested in acquiring it, such as Vietnam, Iran and Venezuela, Pakistan and India, the Director General of the Finlay Vaccine Institute recently announced.
Researchers from that institution are working with countries such as Italy and Canada to test the impact of the Soberana 01 vaccine on people who have already had COVID-19 and are convalescing, but are at risk of reinfection.
“We are not a multinational where (financial) return is the number one reason. We work the other way around, creating more health and return is a consequence, it is never going to be the priority,” Dr. Vicente Vérez, leader of the main vaccine research center in Cuba, explained to the press last week.
“Our world can only beat this virus one way: united,” the UN Secretary-General recently emphasized. Unfortunately, the vaccines of solidarity and justice have not been able to be applied in the rich world that dominates.
By Luis A Montero Cabrera
January 21, 2021
Translated by Merriam Ansara for CubaNews and other outlets.
This is the third in a series of articles.
We Cubans have a very remarkable platform for biomedical production, one might even say extraordinary for a country like ours. An infamous 2004 document from the “Commission for the Support of a Free Cuba” of a previous administration in the US described it as unnecessary and very expensive for such a poor country as ours: “Large sums were also directed to activities such as the development of biotechnology and bioscience centers not appropriate in magnitude and expense for such a fundamentally poor nation, and which have failed to be justified financially”. The only thing to be added to this is that those of us in the South with darker skin ought not to have the luxury of science. But our biopharmaceutical sector is the child of necessity, of the creative initiative of a lover of knowledge and a true revolutionary, as was our Fidel, and of an educational policy that gives everybody without distinction the right to reach the highest level of human knowledge and to with that knowledge, create. It was not begun with a specific strategy or goal but became, as it is today a bastion of the knowledge, science and culture of our country. It was and is the fruit of revolutionary thinking.
The development of a vaccine today requires the existence of today’s conditions for this kind of research. It must begin by looking at the scientific literature for antecedents and ways of doing things that can lead to the implementation of more and more exquisite laboratory procedures and rigorous tests. In our case and for the above reasons, a firm base for the research was already established when the COVID 19 emergency arose. Events such as these cannot be foreseen, but the preparation of the conditions to face them is the duty of any decent political system.
Chinese science immediately made available to the international community everything it knew about this dangerous and ultra-contagious virus and in other countries as well the information that was being generated was made available to all. Under these conditions, several of our scientific groups set to work to obtain a specific Cuban vaccine for this disease. One of the efforts, at the Finlay Vaccine Institute, is led by the same Prof. Vicente Vérez who obtained the previous milestone of the vaccine against “Haemophilus influenzae”, the first with synthetic antigens that was used and commercialized in the world. The other groups involved work at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology with a long tradition also in the design and production of novel vaccines.
Remember that the essential component of a vaccine is the antigen that activates the immune system and leaves it ready to fight and destroy the foreign invader. Additional determining factors are both the adjuvants and the pharmaceutical forms for delivering the vaccine to humans. If you have an established and strong foundation in these last two aspects, determining the most suitable antigen becomes the heart of the creative work.
The antigen chosen in Cuba, for many reasons, was the “receptor-binding domain” of the virus (RBD). In simple terms, these are the molecules that constitute the external “spikes” so striking that they appear in the pictorial representation and the high-resolution microscopy of the viral molecular aggregate. This CoV “spike” protein (S) plays the most important role in viral binding, fusion and entry into cells of the organism attacked by the virus.
Therefore, it serves as a target for the immune system to develop antibodies, and for scientists to use them as antigens in the design of effective vaccines. An article that appeared in one of the branches of the well-known journal Nature had characterized this component as very promising as a vaccine antigen against COVID 19 as early as March 2020. The authors of the article are a very good reflection of the current internationalization of the basic sciences. Most are Chinese in origin and did extensive work in collaboration between the Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute in New York, the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, and the Key Laboratory for Medical Molecular Virology at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Our compañeros evaluated alternatives. One of them was to generate the so-called messenger RNA that was capable of producing the antigen in human cells. It is an ultra-modern technology that is being used in some of the COVID 19 vaccines that are already being applied. It has some advantages, but also has an important disadvantage so far not overcome for a vaccine that is intended to be administered massively throughout the world, especially the less developed one: it requires very strict cooling conditions for its transport and preservation.
Our biotechnology system, on the other hand, has at the Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) the possibility to “ferment” mammalian cells that directly produce the RBD antigen, since the technology has been developed for other similar productions. It also has the possibility of producing a significant quantity if the antigen is viable for our vaccine. Therefore, all Cuban vaccine candidates, at least up to now, are based on this antigen, with some modification that makes it more active.
The results are exhilarating. And thus our scientists began the race to produce a variety of vaccines, in different institutions and by different scientific groups, collaborating and competing, in order to arrive at the best solutions. “SOBERANAS” 1 and 2, the MAMBISA and the ABDALA are very promising.
Vaccines are drugs. Therefore, they require measurements of their effectiveness, knowing their contraindications and risks, and finding the appropriate formulations and the most viable forms of administration before applying them en masse. Everything must proceed in a strict regulatory framework to ensure that consequences more serious than the disease itself were avoided. If they have the same antigen, how are our vaccine variants different? What state are they in their research and development?
Havana, January 20, 2021
Luis Alberto Cabrera Montero holds a Doctorate Chemical Sciences. He is Senior Researcher and Full Professor at the University of Havana. He is President of the Scientific Advisory Council of the University of Havana and is a Merit Member and Coordinator of Natural and Exact Sciences of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba. For a full biography, see http://www.academiaciencias.cu/en/node/674
By Luis A Montero Cabrera
January 11, 2021
Translated by Merriam Ansara for CubaNews and other outlets.
This is the second in a series of articles.
The molecules of an invading biological entity that are identified and are accessible to the human immune system are often referred to as “antigens”. They are usually expressed in the outermost parts of the nanoscopic carrier and are a necessary part of its composition. They are the same when found in a virus, in a fungus, in a bacterium, or in the cells of an organ from another being transplanted into our body.
An important characteristic of the infection and self-healing process is that when an individual overcomes a disease by the action of the immune system, it usually remains prepared to defeat it in future reinfections of the same type. The system “remembers” the intruder antigen and thus we are prepared to reject its carriers again. It is a biological fabric very refined by natural selection through many generations and species.
By realizing this, and using scientific reasoning, human beings try to use this defense “memory” to ensure that people do not get sick with an infection, even if they have never suffered from the disease. It is about “teaching” the immune system of each individual to activate and destroy any morbid invasion once its antigens are detected. The challenge is great, because to invade the body with antigens from a certain infection without making the person sick requires wise processing.
The result is known as a “vaccine.” Its name is due to the fact that the first formulations were cultivated in cows. It is always a chemical-biological preparation of antigens to achieve active acquired immunity against a particular infectious disease. The first vaccines contained the organisms that caused the disease from weakened or dead forms of themselves. It was not known then that what the immune system recognized was only its antigens. These preparations thus “taught” the human body to “shoot” the actions that would destroy the invader. Vaccines can be prophylactic when they prevent and prevent the effects of future infection, as it is desired that COVID-19 be, or therapeutic when they are used to fight a disease that has already invaded the body, such as cancer.
Most likely, the first disease to be prevented by inoculation was smallpox. It seems that the first recorded use of it occurred in the 16th century in China. The scientific and reproducible vaccine against smallpox was invented and duly reported in the specialized literature in 1796 by the English physician Edward Jenner. Smallpox was a contagious and deadly disease, and it is said to kill up to 60% of infected adults and 80% of children.
Tomas Romay y Chacón was a physician and scientist born in Havana in 1764. Having begun by studying law he switched to medicine and in 1791 at the age of 27 was 33rd medical graduate in Cuba. He became a professor at our University of Havana and co-founder of the Royal Patriotic Society of Havana, today the Economic Society of Friends of the Country. As early as 1804, just 8 years after the appearance of the vaccine in Europe, Romay implemented smallpox vaccination on our island with preparations made “in situ” with the support of the Patriotic Society. In this way, he used the local science instead of waiting for delayed arrival of the vaccine from the Metropolis. He and his collaborators followed the procedures published and described by Jenner and manufactured the first Cuban vaccine, the smallpox vaccine. A marvelous success of a nascent, Creole, nation’s innovation and wisdom.
Time passed and scientific research led to the knowledge that the key to vaccines were the antigens and not the entire infectious entities.
Vaccines have been produced in Cuba for many decades. Two of them at least have been both original and exclusive. In 1987 Drs. Concepción Campa and Gustavo Sierra led a scientific group at the Finlay Vaccine Institute to obtain a vaccine that at that time was the first of its kind in the world. This vaccine was and still is very effective against a bacterium that attacks the meninges in the brain and nervous system, called group B and C meningococcus. This type of meningitis is particularly deadly in children. Cuban science at the University of Havana produced in 2004 the world’s first efficient commercial vaccine based on an antigen manufactured in the laboratory, that is, “synthetic”. Prof. Vicente Vérez, a scientist who has dedicated his life to the chemistry of sugars, his wife Dr. Violeta Fernández (who died very young) and their collaborators were the authors of this second great feat. Thanks to the work of these scientific groups, many Cuban children and children in many parts of the world are alive and active today as adults.
Vaccines don’t just contain antigens. The immune system is not equally effective in all people and at all ages. Certain antigens are more activating than others because they are more easily recognized and “trigger” the work of the entire system that feels invaded. Vaccines are made more effective with so-called “adjuvants” (helpers) which, when given together with the appropriate antigens, cause many people’s immune systems to wake up more quickly and efficiently.
New types of vaccines have recently appeared that do not contain antigens directly but rather RNA that allows our cells to synthesize them “in situ”, recognize them and learn to fight them. While the vaccines that contain only antigens without the need to supply the infectious agent are efficient and safe, these others are as well and furthermore allow for mutations of the virus to be taken into account with much greater facility and so ensure the utility of the vaccines over time.
It can be said that vaccines are pieces of biological technology that represent a lifeline for many human beings. Without them we would be at the mercy of Darwinian natural selection and an epidemic would be survived only by the few who could overcome it thanks to some singularity of their organism. This was the case before science intervened by inventing vaccines. The cost was immense in precious lives ending early. It could also be said that without vaccines some type of infection could come along that might lead to the extinction of homo sapiens as a living species, which has happened many times before with other species in the beautiful and harsh history of life on this planet.
And what will the current vaccines against COVID and very particularly the SOBERANAS, MAMBISA and ABDALA be like? How do you prove that they serve what they have been designed for?
Havana, January 6, 2021
Luis Alberto Cabrera Montero holds a Doctorate Chemical Sciences. He is a Senior Researcher and Full Professor at the University of Havana. He is President of the Scientific Advisory Council of the University of Havana and is a Merit Member and Coordinator of Natural and Exact Sciences of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba. For a full biography, see http://www.academiaciencias.cu/en/node/674