Iran will next week become the first country outside of Cuba to start producing one of the Communist-run island's home-grown Covid-19 vaccines on an industrial scale, Cuban state-run media have said.
Iran's Covid-19 case numbers hit a record high for the second time in as many days on Tuesday, rising to almost 35,000.
The Middle Eastern nation reported 34,951 new cases on Tuesday, after registering a record 31,814 cases on Monday in a fifth wave blamed on the highly transmissible Delta variant. Total deaths rose by 357 to 89,479 on Tuesday.
The allies are under fierce US sanctions that they say have long encumbered access to medicines and medical inputs, motivating them to be self reliant. Both have produced a raft of experimental Covid-19 vaccines, some with patriotic names like Cuba's Soberana 2 — or Sovereign 2.
Preliminary Cuban data from late-phase clinical trials suggests Soberana 2 and its other most advanced Covid-19 vaccine Abdala are among the world's most efficient, with more than 90 per cent efficacy, although critics say they will remain sceptical until it publishes the figures in international, peer-reviewed journals.
Iran's Pasteur Institute agreed earlier this year to collaborate with Cuba's Finlay Institute, which developed Soberana 2, to implement phase three clinical trials of the shot in the Islamic Republic, leading to its approval for emergency use early in July.
Iran and Cuba will produce millions of doses of Soberana 2 in the Middle Eastern country under the name PastuCovac, Finlay Institute chief Vicente Vérez Bencomo said during a visit to Tehran this week, Cuban state-run media said.
“Usually you need 15 years to develop a vaccine from zero to the industrialisation phase but we did all the steps in a year,” he was quoted as saying, “and the evidence is that it works very well.”
Cuba's biotech sector has a long history of vaccine development, producing 80 per cent of vaccines used in the Caribbean island nation and exporting some of them.
That could provide an economic and diplomatic boon to the cash-strapped country, which has faced recent criticism over its crackdown on unprecedented protests as well as support for its demand that Washington lift its trade embargo.
Cuba and Iran, listed among the world's 20 highest Covid-19 caseloads per capita here, charge US sanctions with hampering their pandemic response, including vaccine development.
The sanctions theoretically exempt medical products but often in practice put foreign pharmaceutical companies off trading with them and banks from processing transactions with them.
Washington last month issued guidance easing the way for delivery of products to combat the pandemic to some heavily sanctioned countries including Iran, although not to Cuba.