Cuba, Summer 2022: Clay for Children or a Vaccine Against COVID-19?

Cuban schoolchildren during the ceremony where they take on the red scarf. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elias Amor Bravo, Economist, 31 July 2022 — Cuba’s State newspaper Granma wants to leave behind this month of July, of accumulation of anomalies for the regime, with some news that aims to mean a return to normality. Not so much to justify that 10.9% GDP growth that Economy Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez said occurred in the economy, but so that people breathe and can regain some calm after so many blackouts, lack of food, insecurity for the future and absolute loss of confidence in the leaders. The first news is that there is a return to the production of children’s modeling clay, with the manufacture of about 200,000 sets of colored clay intended for day care centers throughout the country. The Education Media Production Company (EMEG), after a period of difficulty, has assumed the delivery of this educational material to the Ministry of Education (MINED).

This return to normality has been possible “after part of the production process was stabilized with the entry of imported raw materials (whose availability was affected during the stage of confronting COVID-19 in Cuba).” Apparently, Cuban clay manufactured by EMEG depends on raw materials that can only be obtained outside the country, which affects its final quality. Since 1989, the company has been manufacturing a product with a better quality and longer lasting duration than other imported clay, but it depends on those raw materials that, apparently, no one has ordered to be manufactured in Cuba.

Clay, the national one, due to the vicissitudes of the moment, is only limited to commitments to MINED. If a child wants to play at home with this clay, he can’t do it, since the regime decided that it couldn’t be bought in stores. In this way, the authorities limit the growth possibilities of the state company that, if it could produce more, would do so at lower unit costs, be more competitive, meet unmet demands, and who knows if it wouldn’t be able to export its surplus to other countries in the area? If the clay is so good and no one doubts its quality, why not sell it to children in the Dominican Republic or Costa Rica? What does it matter, who cares about all this in Cuba?

And just like colored clay, Granma announces with great fanfare that the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) already has the Cuban vaccine candidate against the Omicron variant of SARS-COV-2 ready. Now it seems that it’s so, although you have a certain feeling of déjà vu when reading this news for the umpteenth time.

And as usually happens in these cases, the information was given by the member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Party and the General Director of the CIGB, Dr. Martha Ayala Ávila, during a technical meeting with the highest authorities of the BioCubaFarma Business Group. The party is always behind this kind of thing, even with the production of clay.

Apparently, it was also said that they will continue with preclinical and toxicological evaluations in animal models and then move on to the clinical trials phase, in conjunction with the Center for the State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices (CECMED) and the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP). In other words, in a few months we will have the vaccine ready again. As you can see, Dr. Ayala doesn’t answer to a board of directors, usually little given to this news of fireworks, but the regime is only interested in certain facts.

The world offered a master lesson in 2020 when the COVID pandemic broke out, and large drug manufacturers worldwide began a race to identify vaccines to curb the disease. And they did it, each country at its own pace and according to its needs. There was even plenty of international cooperation to fight COVID-19. The Cuban communist regime made its own decision to advance its vaccination candidates, and here we are. The new vaccine candidate is based on the RBD sequence; that is, the receptor binding domain of human cells, through which this type of coronavirus penetrates, which has already had extensive development and practical application in the millions of people vaccinated with the second and third doses.

In Cuba, immunogenicity is now being evaluated in animal models, to check if the vaccine has the ability to induce a high immunogenicity. From there to being in a position to address the development of this vaccine candidate and then decide when to use it in the population is a stretch, probably a long one. It was said that the CIGB has the capacity to produce this vaccine candidate in its plants, to link with AICA Laboratories and carry out clinical studies in coordination with MINSAP, always with the approval of the Cuban regulatory authority, which may mean that the regime is studying the possibility of marketing the vaccine abroad through more exports. To do this, it will need some type of WHO approval that, it should be remembered, still hasn’t happened for the first vaccines given to the population in Cuba.

That they get to it right now and that Granma turns it into a great announcement is smoke in the wind, and has a lot to do, like children’s clay, with that feeling of a terminal phase that the regime uses to counteract this warm and torrid summer for millions of Cubans. The distance of the population from the leaders is opening up more and more, and this type of news does nothing but increase the gap. There is little to celebrate for Raúl Castro to gain time, and in his 91 years he won’t have to see the collapse of the mammoth built by his brother and him. The end is near, even if it’s built out of clay. Granma doesn’t know what to say anymore.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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