Connect with us

Business News

Why Cuba’s extraordinary Covid vaccine success could provide the best hope for the global south

Published

on

Workers transport a shipment of the Cuban Soberana Plus vaccine against the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to be donated by the Cuban government to Syria, at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, on January 7, 2022.

YAMIL LAGE | AFP | Getty Images

Cuba has vaccinated a greater percentage of its population against Covid-19 than almost all the world’s largest and richest nations. In fact, only the oil-rich United Arab Emirates boasts a stronger vaccination record.

The tiny Communist-run Caribbean island has achieved this milestone by producing its own Covid vaccine, even as it struggles to keep supermarket shelves stocked amid a decades-old U.S. trade embargo.

“It is an incredible feat,” Helen Yaffe, a Cuba expert and lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, told CNBC via telephone.

“Those of us who have studied biotech aren’t surprised in that sense, because it has not just come out of the blue. It is the product of a conscious government policy of state investment in the sector, in both public health and in medical science.”

To date, around 86% of the Cuban population has been fully vaccinated against Covid with three doses, and another 7% have been partly inoculated against the disease, according to official statistics compiled by Our World in Data.

These figures include children from the age of two, who began receiving the vaccine several months ago. The country’s health authorities are rolling out booster shots to the entire population this month in a bid to limit the spread of the highly transmissible omicron Covid variant.

The country of roughly 11 million remains the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean to have produced a homegrown shot for Covid.

“Just the sheer audacity of this tiny little country to produce its own vaccines and vaccinating 90% of its population is an extraordinary thing,” John Kirk, professor emeritus at the Latin America program of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, told CNBC via telephone.

I think it is clear that many countries and populations in the global south see the Cuban vaccine as their best hope for getting vaccinated by 2025.

Helen Yaffe

Lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow,

Cuba’s prestigious biotech sector has developed five different Covid vaccines, including Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus — all of which Cuba says provide upwards of 90% protection against symptomatic Covid when three doses are administered.

Cuba’s vaccine clinical trial data has yet to undergo international scientific peer review, although the country has engaged in two virtual exchanges of information with the World Health Organization to initiate the Emergency Use Listing process for its vaccines.

Unlike U.S. pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna, which use mRNA technology, all of Cuba’s vaccines are subunit protein vaccines — like the Novavax vaccine. Crucially for low-income countries, they are cheap to produce, can be manufactured at scale and do not require deep freezing.

It has prompted international health officials to tout the shots as a potential source of hope for the global south, particularly as low vaccination rates persist. For instance, while around 70% of people in the European Union have been fully vaccinated, less than 10% of the African population have been fully vaccinated.

For this to hope to be realized, however, the WHO would likely have to approve Cuba’s vaccines. The WHO’s vetting process involves assessing the production facilities where the vaccines are developed, a point which Cuba’s health officials say has slowed progress.

Vicente Verez, head of Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute, told Reuters last month that the U.N. health agency was assessing Cuba’s manufacturing facilities to a “first-world standard,” citing the costly process in upgrading theirs to that level.

Verez has said previously that the necessary documents and data would be submitted to the WHO in the first quarter of 2022. Approval from the WHO would be an important step to making the shots available throughout the world.

‘Enormous significance’

When asked what it would mean for low-income countries should the WHO approve Cuba’s Covid vaccines, Yaffe said: “I think it is clear that many countries and populations in the global south see the Cuban vaccine as their best hope for getting vaccinated by 2025.”

“And actually, it affects all of us because what we are seeing with the omicron variant is that what happens when vast populations have almost no coverage is that you have mutations and new variants developing and then they come back to haunt the advanced capitalist countries which have been hoarding vaccines,” she added.

A man wears a face mask as he walks down a street amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Havana, Cuba, Oct. 2, 2021.

Joaquin Hernandez | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

Kirk agreed that the WHO’s potential approval of Cuba’s nationally produced Covid vaccines would carry “enormous significance” for the global south.

“One thing that is important to bear in mind is that the vaccines don’t require the ultra-low temperatures which Pfizer and Moderna need so there are places, in Africa in particular, where you don’t have the ability to store these global north vaccines,” Kirk said.

He also pointed out that Cuba, unlike other countries or pharmaceutical companies, had offered to engage in the transfer of technology to share its vaccine production expertise with the global south.

“The objective of Cuba is not to make a fast buck, unlike the multinational drug corporations, but rather to keep the planet healthy. So, yes making an honest profit but not an exorbitant profit as some of the multinationals would make,” Kirk said.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned last month that a “tsunami” of Covid cases driven by the omicron variant was “so huge and so quick” that it had overwhelmed health systems worldwide.

Tedros repeated his call for greater vaccine distribution to help low-income countries vaccinate their populations, with more than 100 countries on track to miss the U.N. health agency’s target for 70% of the world to be fully vaccinated by July.

The WHO said last year that the world was likely to have enough Covid vaccine doses in 2022 to fully inoculate the entire global adult population — providing high-income countries did not hoard vaccines to use in booster programs.

Alongside pharmaceutical industry trade associations, a number of Western countries — such as Canada, the U.K. and Japan — are among those actively blocking a patent-waiver proposal designed to boost the global production of Covid vaccines.

The urgency of waiving certain intellectual property rights amid the pandemic has repeatedly been underscored by the WHO, health experts, civil society groups, trade unions, former world leaders, international medical charities, Nobel laureates and human rights organizations.

An absence of vaccine hesitancy

The seven-day average of daily Covid cases in Cuba climbed to 2,063 as of Jan. 11, reflecting an almost 10-fold increase since the end of December as the omicron variant spreads.

It comes as the number of omicron Covid cases surges across countries and territories in the Americas region. The Pan American Health Organization, the WHO’s regional Americas office, has warned a rise in cases may lead to an uptick in hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks.

PAHO has called on countries to accelerate vaccination coverage to reduce Covid transmission and has repeated its recommendation of public health measures such as tight-fitting masks — a mandatory requirement in Cuba.

Yaffe has long been confident in Cuba’s ability to boast one of the world’s strongest vaccination records. Speaking to CNBC in February last year — before the country had even developed a homegrown vaccine — she said she could “guarantee” that Cuba would be able to administer its domestically produced Covid vaccine extremely quickly.

“It wasn’t conjecture,” Yaffe said. “It was based on understanding their public health care system and the structure of it. So, the fact that they have what they call family doctor and nurse clinics in every neighborhood.”

Students, who are accompanied by their mother, are being vaccinated with a dose of the Soberana 2 vaccine against the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, developed in Cuba, at the Bolivar educational center in Caracas, Venezuela on December 13, 2021.

Pedro Rances Mattey | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Many of these clinics are based in rural and hard-to-reach areas and it means health authorities can quickly deliver vaccines to the island’s population.

“The other aspect is they don’t have a movement of vaccine hesitancy, which is something that we are seeing in many countries,” Yaffe said.

Business News

‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ tops $108 million as parents flock back to cinemas, kids in tow

Published

on

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is the sequel to the 2015 film, “Minions,” and spin-off/prequel to the main “Despicable Me” film series.

Universal

Families have gone bananas for “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Over the weekend, the Universal and Illumination animated feature tallied more than $108 million in ticket sales.

The fifth film in the Despicable Me franchise generated an additional $93.7 million from international markets, bringing its estimated opening weekend haul to $202 million globally.

“With the incredible success of ‘Minions,’ the notion that family audiences were avoiding movie theaters due to Covid concerns can be shelved,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Box office analysts had wondered if this segment of moviegoers was still avoiding cinemas after Disney and Pixar’s “Lightyear” took in just $51 million during its domestic debut last month, below expectations of $70 million and $85 million.

It was unclear if tough box office competition led to “Lightyear’s” less than stellar debut or if consumers were confused about the film’s release. After all, there has not been a theatrical release of a Pixar film since 2020′s “Onward.” The last three from the animation studio, “Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red,” were all released on streaming service Disney+.

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” represented 54% of all domestic moviegoers over the weekend, with 68% of ticket holders being part of family groups, according to data from EntTelligence.

“What this weekend has showcased is a triumphant return to cinemas by families, laying to rest any lingering and outdated pandemic narrative that parents and kids only want to watch movies at home,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “When the right content is out there, people will show up.”

The film is expected to add another $20 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada on Monday, bringing its holiday weekend total to $128 million.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the distributor of “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Continue Reading

Business News

American Airlines scheduling glitch allows pilots to drop thousands of July flights

Published

on

An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner approaches for a landing at the Miami International Airport on December 10, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

A glitch in a scheduling platform allowed American Airlines pilots to drop thousands of July assignments overnight Saturday, their union said, a headache for the airline as it tries to minimize flight disruptions during a booming travel season.

American said it didn’t expect the problem to affect its operation, including during the busy July Fourth holiday weekend. The union and airline are now discussing additional pay for pilots whose dropped trips the airline reinstated, the Allied Pilots Association said.

“As a result of this technical glitch, certain trip trading transactions were able to be processed when it shouldn’t have been permitted,” the airline said in a statement. “We already have restored the vast majority of the affected trips and do not anticipate any operational impact because of this issue.”

More than 12,000 July flights lacked either a captain, first officer, or both, after pilots dropped assignments, the Allied Pilots Association said Saturday. APA said the airline reinstated about 80% of the trips.

Pilots can routinely drop or pick up trips, but time off in the summer or holidays is hard to come by for airline employees as schedules peak to cater to strong demand.

On Saturday alone, American had more than 3,000 mainline flights scheduled and they were 93% full, according to an internal tally. Flights left unstaffed, however, are an additional strain on any airline.

The glitch occurred during a rocky start to the Fourth of July weekend when thunderstorms and staffing issues caused thousands of U.S. flight delays and hundreds of cancellations.

A similar issue occurred in 2017, when a technology problem let American’s pilots take vacation during the busy December holiday period. The carrier offered pilots 150% pay for pilots that picked up assignments.

American and its pilots’ union, whose relationship has been fraught, are in the middle of contract negotiations and the airline most recently offered nearly 17% raises through 2024.

Union president Capt. Ed Sicher, who started his term Friday, told American’s roughly 15,000 pilots Saturday night that American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said he is committed to paying an “inconvenience premium” to aviators whose trips American put back on their schedules after the glitch.

“To Mr. Isom’s credit, he called me four times today to commit to mitigating the damage from this debacle,” Sicher wrote late Saturday. “We started at a 200% override, although the details of this pay are still the subject of negotiations and there is no guarantee of the details or the amounts.”

American Airlines declined to comment on Sicher’s message to pilots.

American’s pilots have picketed recently against grueling schedules, something they want to be addressed in a new contract. Pilots at Delta and Southwest have picketed in recent weeks for similar reasons.

Sicher also struck an upbeat tone about contract talks with American, particularly about quality-of-life issues.

“Please understand that no firm commitments have yet been made, but I feel that we have, at least for the first time since negotiations began, received positive indications that management is motivated to achieve collaborative solutions to longstanding problems with our current contract that will greatly enhance our ability to trade our trips and consequently enhance our quality of life,” he wrote.

Continue Reading

Business News

Trump media company subpoenaed in federal criminal probe of SPAC deal

Published

on

Former U.S. President Donald Trump gives the keynote address at the Faith & Freedom Coalition during their annual “Road To Majority Policy Conference” at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center June 17, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Seth Herald | Getty Images

Donald Trump’s media company was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in connection with a criminal probe, according to the company with which the former president’s firm plans to merge.

Digital World Acquisition Corp. said in a filing Friday that Trump Media and Technology Group received a subpoena from the grand jury in Manhattan on Thursday. The Trump company also received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding a civil probe on Monday, DWAC said.

DWAC also said some current and former TMTG employees have also recently received grand jury subpoenas.

The filing came days after DWAC said the government investigations could delay or even prevent its merger with Trump’s newly formed company, which includes Truth Social, a social media app intended to be an alternative to Twitter.

Neither TMTG nor a spokeswoman for Trump immediately responded to CNBC’s requests for comment.

The Justice Department and the SEC, which regulates the stock market, are investigating the deal between DWAC and Trump Media. By merging with DWAC, which is a kind of shell company called a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, Trump’s firm would gain access to potentially billions of dollars on public equities markets.

Trump established Truth Social months after Twitter banned him for his tweets on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Trump Media’s CEO is former Rep. Devin Nunes, one of the former president’s most ardent loyalists in the Republican Party. Trump is also considering whether to run for president in the 2024 election.

Trump has continued to spread the lie that the election was stolen from him. His alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection is being probed by a House select committee that has accused the former president of being at the center of a multipronged conspiracy to block the peaceful transfer of power to Biden.

Early criticism of the Trump-DWAC deal came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. In calling for an investigation, she wrote to SEC Chair Gary Gensler in November, telling him that DWAC “may have committed securities violations by holding private and undisclosed discussions about the merger as early as May 2021, while omitting this information in [SEC] filing and other public statements.”

DWAC shares are far off their highs, closing Friday at $24.20. The stock had surged above $90 in October, after the deal with Trump’s group was announced.

DWAC on Monday revealed in a securities filing that it learned June 16 that each member of its board of directors received subpoenas from the same federal grand jury.

The grand jury sought documents similar to those the SEC already requested as part of its civil probe, DWAC said. The company itself was served with a subpoena a week ago with similar requests, along with other requests relating to communications, individuals and information involving Rocket One Capital.

DWAC also revealed Monday that a board member, Bruce J. Garelick, had told management that he would quit the board during the previous week. Garelick said his resignation “was not the result of any disagreement with Digital World’s operations, policies or practices,” according to the company filing.

— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger and Thomas Franck contributed to this story.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

Continue Reading

Trending