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Cuba Set To Test Its Own 'Sovereign' COVID-19 Vaccine As Cases Jump Sharply On The Island

Ramon Espinosa
A man wears a protective mask against COVID-19 in Havana this summer.

Scientists at Cuba's major biotech institute say their coronavirus vaccine looks promising, but trial results won't be ready until next year.

A lot of countries of late claim they’ve developed COVID-19 vaccines. The latest is Cuba, which is set to begin testing its vaccine next week.

Cuban scientists told President Miguel Díaz-Canel this week they’re set to start a phase one clinical trial of their vaccine, called Soberana 01. They said it’s shown promise in mice and rabbits creating antibodies against the new coronavirus, similar to vaccines used previously against the SARS virus.

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The initial testing on humans will begin next Monday to confirm the drug’s safety. A phase two trial would then begin next month to determine the vaccine's actual effectiveness. Cuban state media say the results probably won’t be ready until January.

Soberana 01 was developed at Cuba’s biotech facility, the Finlay Institute, which is well regarded internationally for its vaccine production. Its name means “sovereign" — meant to signal that amid its wrecked economy, Cuba needs to to rely on a domestically-produced vaccine.

This year Cuba has also touted its coronavirus treatment drug, interferon alfa 2B. But epidemiologists say no clinical trials have yet proven it effective as a stand-alone treatment.

Cuba has seen a sharp jump in coronavirus cases this month and has had to pull back on reopening the island to badly needed tourism. Earlier this month it closed Havana's José Martí International Airport again to international flights.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.