Soberana 02
Technician Mayelin Mejias works with the 'Soberana 02' COVID-19 vaccine at the packaging processing plant of the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana. Image Credit: AP

Havana: Cuba, aiming to immunize its entire population with home-grown vaccines, this week entered a new trial phase with its Sovereign 02 shot, officials said.

"If all goes well, we will have the entire population vaccinated this year," Vicente Verez, director of the state-run Finlay Vaccine Institute (IFV) told AFP.

The institute, he added, had the capacity to produce 100 million doses of Sovereign 02 in the coming 11 months, provided it passes the trial phase.

Sovereign 02 is the most advanced of four candidate vaccines being developed by Cuba, a communist-run island nation under severe US sanctions.

The others are named Sovereign 01, Abdala and Mambisa.

Cuba, with a population of 11.2 million, is one of least-affected nations in the region by the coronavirus epidemic, with just over 19,000 reported cases and 180 deaths.

Sovereign 02 is now in Phase 2B with some 900 volunteers. If successful, it will pass to Phase 3 with 150,000 volunteers in March - the last phase before drug registration.

The country hopes to launch a vaccination campaign in the first quarter of the year and so become the first Latin American country to produce its own Covid-19 inoculation.

Cuba has much experience in the area. According to Jose Moya of the World Health Organization, the country produces nearly 80 percent of its own vaccines.

Earlier this month, the IFV signed an agreement with the Pasteur Institute in Iran to test the Sovereign 02 shot in that country.

At the time, Verez said the vaccine had shown "an early immune response" at 14 days.

On Friday, Cuba said it had detected its first case of the South African variant of the virus, which is believed to be more contagious than the original, in a traveler from abroad.