They say that when José Martí arrived in Caracas in January 1881 "without dusting the road" he went to visit the Liberator in Plaza Bolívar. Exactly 140 years later, history repeats itself with the arrival of the Cuban vaccine Abdala to Venezuelan lands. The drug, the work of a one hundred percent sovereign effort on the blockaded island 60 years ago, arrived in the country in its first batch on Thursday, June 24, and a few hours later it was available for application through the national immunization plan.
There are many symbolic references that make this vaccine with the name of a poem shine, but more is the scientific curriculum that it boasts and whose title is nothing more and nothing less than its effectiveness: 92,28%, a much higher percentage than that achieved by the big transnational pharmaceutical companies but which is ignored in the headlines of the hegemonic press.
Its quality is tested with all rigorous scientific standards and the information is available on the internet from reliable sources, but as anything goes in war and love, it costs the enemies of Cuba (and Venezuela) make a dirty campaign against the drug with an internationalist vocation that stands as the first native of Latin America and for now the fourth most effective in the world.
Like the story of Martí in Venezuela and also the story of covid-19, the story of the Abdala vaccine is short and fast-paced. Discovering it is entering 60 years of biotechnological resistance research.
Abdala, a soldier
Abdala is the name of the first work of the Cuban apostle José Martí, who wrote it when he was just a teenager of almost 16 years. In reality, it is a lyrical play, written in verse, whose story delves into the life of a young man who seeks to defend his homeland from foreign enemies. It was published for the first time in 1869 and the plot is a veiled clamor to the reality that Cuba lived in those times.
The anguished but proactive tone reveals in the text the concerns and desires of who soon after would be the most prominent figure in the history of Cuba. It is a prophetic text by Martí about his own future, who transferred his youthful concerns about his country's desire for freedom from Spain to a mythical region in southern Egypt called Nubia.
"Tell the people that with him to the field / When ordered I will start the march / And tell the tyrant to get ready / To prepare his people, and to give his spears / shine and splendor. Our souls shine stronger / robust and courageous! ”. So says the young Abdala in the play when he is summoned to fight to defend his trench.
"Written especially for the homeland" was the warning that Martí wrote as a prelude to the text when he first published it in the newspaper La Patria Libre.
It didn't take much more for the title of this work to be used as the name of one of the five Cuban vaccine candidates. More than 150 years after its publication, the clamor emanating from Martí's pen is not only the same, but also has more meanings.
60 years of work guarantee safety and effectiveness
The first argument to put to rest the doubts about the Abdala vaccine are Cuba's 60 years producing successful drugs. So successful that thanks to its export the island collects an important part of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In addition, the inhabitants of the island themselves receive in their plan for mass immunization eight vaccines produced in a sovereign manner, so it is the health of that population, applauded by the UN, the first test of the safety of their products.
In this same space we have already written throughout this pandemic year several texts on Cuban medicine and the prestige of its pharmaceutical industry, an objective fact that transcends any ideological desire.
Making a brief summary, the Cuban Revolution triumphed under the leadership of Fidel Castro on January 1, 1959, and in 1962 the revolutionary government launched its first national vaccination campaign thanks to which the country became the first to eradicate polio .
In the balance after this effort, the revolutionary leaders agreed that they could not settle for just applying vaccines, but that they should produce them with total sovereignty. This is because in a blocked country any resource that is not autonomous is automatically finite.
So, betting on a structural public policy of medical innovation, over the years a platform was built that today brings together 32 state-owned companies where more than 10 workers with exclusive dedication to the production of medicines and vaccines.
The island's endorsements include the BC meningococcal vaccine, the only one in the world with proven efficacy to combat meningitis B and C; Heberbiovac HB, a recombinant preventive vaccine against hepatitis b, and more recently two anticancer drugs: CIMAher, an immunotherapeutic drug against pancreatic cancer, and CIMAvax-EGF, the first therapeutic vaccine against non-small cell lung cancer.
"Its organization and uninterrupted execution have allowed six diseases, two serious clinical forms and two serious complications to be eliminated, and the remaining ones maintain incidence and mortality rates that do not constitute a health problem," they say in an article published in the Pan American Journal of Health in 2018 entitled Cuban Experience in Immunization, 1962–2016.
It is also important to recall that Cuban drugs are not only dedicated to meeting their domestic demand but also to export, with humanitarian but also commercial criteria.
Cuban professionals have received ten gold medals from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for 26 years; its biotech products were exported to 49 countries before the pandemic, including vaccines used in childhood immunization programs in Latin America.
Even in the United States, since 2017, specifically in New York City, the drug Cimavax for lung cancer has been used with successful and publicly verifiable results.
With that medical record, Cuba reaches March 2020, when the new coronavirus takes the world by storm. And not satisfied with developing a vaccine candidate, the island undertook the task of developing five formulas. The reason for this abundance of proposals was to minimize risk by betting on various technologies.
They are: the Soberana 1, Soberana 2 and Soberana Plus vaccines, from the Finlay Institute in alliance with the Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) and the Center for Biopreparations; and the Abdala and Mambisa sera, from the laboratories of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB).
A sixth drug is being worked hand in hand with China. These vaccines are not only expected to be exported to Venezuela but also to Mexico, Jamaica, Vietnam, India, Pakistan as well as the 55 countries of the African Union.
And if the reader is looking for an “impartial” voice, this was said last week by someone as “impartial” as the representative in Cuba of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), José Moya, to a media as “impartial” as DW: “The Finlay Institute and the CIGB have 30 years of experience in vaccine research. A proof of this is that 80% of the vaccines that the National Immunization Program has are produced in the country ”.
This is how Abdala works
The technology with which the Abdala vaccine was formulated is the “subunit vaccine”, the same with which Sovereign 02 was developed. This serum uses proteins derived from the virus conjugated with other carrier proteins to trigger the response of the immune system. The vaccine uses a yeast cell culture.
It is applied in a scheme of three doses 14 days apart and its effectiveness is reached after 42 days.
The third phase of testing of this vaccine in Cuba began in mid-March in the provinces of Santiago, Guantánamo and Granma, and 48.000 volunteers between the ages of 19 and 80 took part. The results of this test were released earlier this week.
This Wednesday the Cuban government gave authorization for the beginning of the Ismaelillo testing phase, to apply the Abdala vaccine in pediatric patients, that is, in boys and girls, since its safety and effectiveness in this population is also proven.
It is true that the Abdala vaccine still does not have the endorsement of the WHO, a bureaucratic procedure that the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine does not have, for example. However, the information about its formulation and effectiveness is not secret, you just have to look in the right places. For example, you only need to enter the BioCubaFarma Twitter account to see the announcement of a public webinar that the director of the institute, Gerardo Guillén, will offer next Friday, July 9, within the framework of the virtual event Expo Germany Latin America. Access is public and free.
Like that invitation, there are various reports that only in that account can be read from the press and international expert spokespersons on the Abdala vaccine.
Returning to the Sputnik-V vaccine, it was also the object of derision by the transnationals of the press until its irrefutable results were published by the British magazine The Lancet. And once this happened, without blushing, the media said that Russia was to blame for the "disinformation" for allegedly hiding their data, data that for months had been available to the public in more than ten languages on the website and social networks from the Gamaleya Institute. Will the same happen with Abdala?
First person testimonial
I myself, who signs this text, received the Abdala vaccine this Thursday. It was applied to me by a Cuban medical team in the Simoncito of the Ciudad Tiuna urbanism, where I went thanks to the whistle of a friend. No pain and no side effects. I was accompanied by a colleague, who did suffer dizziness and headache a few hours after the puncture.
Two days before in Últimas Noticias We had received the devastating news of the departure of our colleague Carolina Hidalgo, who died a victim of the coronavirus after spending two weeks intubated in the CDI of Lídice. I met Carolina in the newsrooms of the former Bolivarian News Agency (ABN), Ciudad CCS and now in Últimas Noticias, where she was editor-in-chief. Her human and professional qualities will remain forever in the hearts of those of us who knew her and knowing that her departure was due to a virus that can already be prevented thanks to vaccines such as Abdala fills the soul with frustrations.
Personally, I was vaccinated with the Abdala with total confidence in the medicine and scientific expertise of Cuba but also with the rush of intense pain for the loss of Carolina, just one of the several goodbyes that we have had to face this year. His departure was my impulse and that of several of my colleagues to try to beat the pandemic with a speedy vaccination.
All the vaccines formulated against covid-19 were made in record time and with experimental methods. All were tested with unpublished mechanisms and all represent a real hope of returning to "normality" thanks to modern science, of not continuing to lose loved ones.
Two vaccines: AstraZeneca and Janssen, both approved by the WHO, have been suspended at times due to doubts as to their safety, and even so they have continued to be applied because their benefits exceed their risks. Why do we trust those other drugs and doubt Abdala? Vaccination centers are open.