Venezuela Could Produce Cuban COVID-19 Vaccines

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A laboratory technician working in the production plant of the antigen that makes up the Abdala vaccine candidate for the fight against Covid-19 at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana, on February 25, 2021. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

CARACAS, Venezuela, Fri. April 9, 2021 (Reuters) – Cuban could become the smallest nation to produce a COVID-19 vaccine and Venezuela says it has the capacity to produce it.

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez of Caracas biomedical facility, made the statement on Thursday. The academies of medicine and science as well as health-sector workers have urged the government of President Nicolas Maduro to speed up a stalled vaccination campaign.

The Venezuelan government, which has received 750,000 vaccines from Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm, says the country has been unable to buy vaccines because of U.S. sanctions that have frozen assets in offshore accounts.

“Today we have visited this plant to verify that there are sufficient conditions – which there are – for the production of the Abdala vaccine,” Rodriguez told state television during a visit to the plant.

She added that Venezuela would participate in the Phase III trials of the vaccine, without providing details on the start date or number of people to be involved.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cuba began late-phase trials in March of two of its five experimental shots, Soberana 2 and Abdala, which will be Latin America’s first homegrown COVID-19 vaccines if they prove successful.

The Communist-run Caribbean island developed a large biotech sector partly in response to a crippling U.S. trade embargo.

The trials for Abdala, named after a poem by the 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti, will be completed in July and the first results will be published in August, according to state media.

Venezuela has reported 170,189 infections and 1,705 deaths from COVID-19 since March 2020. Opposition leaders and doctors say the total case count is likely higher than that due to limited testing.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Peter Cooney)