14ymedio, Madrid, July 29, 2021 – “One underestimates this about Covid. I walk stumbling like this, with short steps, falling on both sides.” Caridad, a resident of Centro Habana, fell ill with Covid-19 just after receiving her first dose of Abdala, the only Cuban vaccine candidate approved for emergency use by CECMED.
Its developer, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) established its effectiveness at 100% “in the face of severe disease and death,” but insisted that the vaccine did not stop contagion and it was essential to maintain prevention measures, such as is being done in the rest of the world. Despite that warning, the data is worse than expected.
According to the Ministry of Public Health, to date 3,484,672 people have received at least one dose “of one of the Cuban vaccine candidates” (the official reports do not specify whether Soberana 02 or Abdala), of which 2,954,759 have also received the second and 2,460,919, the third. That is, 20% of the population has received the complete vaccination schedule.
But what is more worrying is the number of people who have already been vaccinated. At the national level, the authorities give assurances that “work is being done” to “establish how many of the sick people have been vaccinated with all three doses in order to be able to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine,” but they have only provided figures from Havana.
This Saturday, Emilio Delgado Iznaga, provincial director of Health, announced that of the documented infections “96% were symptomatic and 73% were already vaccinated.” This supposes an increase compared to the previous day, when the Havana Tribune calculated that of the total confirmed, 71.7% “appear vaccinated” (although it was around 56% vaccinated with the three doses).
Cuban immunologist Eduardo López-Collazo, director of the Research Institute of Hospital La Paz, in Madrid, hypothesizes that those who have received a dose have become confident and relaxed their safety measures for avoiding contagion. “As we already know, none of the vaccines is completely sterilizing, that is, they do not completely cut the contagion, but rather reduce the possibility of suffering from the disease,” he recalls.
However, after studying the “few data” that the authorities provide, he raises another possibility: that the vaccines are not effective against the new variants.
This would be consistent with the fact that the trajectory of the island’s case curve has skyrocketed at the same time that the Beta and Delta variants of the virus have expanded (the Delta is considered more contagious and aggressive).
Delta has come to complicate the situation of the pandemic even in areas with the highest vaccination rates, as the authorities discussed ten days ago during a Roundtable program on Cuban TV aimed at analyzing the usefulness of Soberana 02 and Abdala in the face of new variants.
Although investigations are ongoing, Dr. Verena Muzio González, director of Clinical Research at CIGB, said that correct immunity is achieved only with the complete regimen (three doses in Cuba) and that you have to wait at least two weeks for the immune system to generate the appropriate antibodies to defend itself against the most serious forms of the disease.
The data are comparable to other countries, but it is difficult to find similar examples in which the percentage of infected is so high among those vaccinated. In Spain, where more than half of the population (26 million people) are already immunized, only 5.5% of those infected were fully vaccinated (11.4% among those who received a single dose). In addition, although the country is experiencing a fifth wave that is beginning to cause worry, most infections occur among young people (who are not yet vaccinated) and the average age of those hospitalized has dropped dramatically to below 50.
In the United States, where immunization has lagged and the most contagious variants are spreading, “more than 97% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 are not vaccinated,” according to a New York Times report.
The closest case to the Cuban situation is that of the United Kingdom, where according to an investigation conducted by the Financial Times, the number of positive cases among those vaccinated with a complete schedule has shot up to almost half in recent weeks. However, the director of the study, Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at Kings College, clarified to the local press, “although the figures seem worrying, it is important to note that vaccines have greatly reduced severe infections and that Covid for the post-vaccinated is a much milder illness for most people. ”
Spector did not go into assessing whether the rise in the contagious vaccinated has to do with the expansion of the Delta variant. British health authorities worry that good weather, and the lifting of the latest restrictions on July 19, may shoot up the number of cases in the summer.
Several reports have come to this newspaper, of people who have contracted the disease while being vaccinated with one or two doses of the compound. On case is that of Yoel, from the Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, who lost the sense of smell and taste after his second dose with Abdala, the second week of July, and is still awaiting the results of a PCR Covid test.
Although some are beginning to fear that it was the vaccine itself that caused the disease, this is scientifically impossible in the case of protein subunit vaccines, which this vaccine is.
“It is not possible for this vaccine to cause the disease because it is made with a harmless protein from the virus; they are not injecting an attenuated virus or anything like that,” explains Dr. López-Collazo.
Last week, a team from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO / WHO) office in Cuba visited the National Center for Scientific Research (CNIC) to learn more about the efficacy results of the Cuban vaccine candidates.
That day, Vicente Vérez, the director of the Finlay Vaccination Institute, was optimistic about next month, since at the end of August, 14 days will have passed since the application of the last dose to the general population of Havana, which will allow knowing more data.
As he explained, the British medical journal The Lancet is reviewing a study by Soberana that would shed some light on the opaque and controversial Cuban vaccines. So far, there are no public results of clinical trials of Cuban vaccine candidates, nor are there any articles in scientific journals, except for two on Soberana 02 about a preclinical trial on mice.
Translated by Tomás A.
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