The vaccination process in Iran has been rocky and chaotic from the start, with Islamic Republic officials contradicting each other at every point. They started the whole process later than other countries and even when they did order, it was much less than what the country needed. They blamed it all on the US sanctions and then trumpeted domestic vaccines and their progress without any actual evidence or data. Some officials even denied the existence of such capabilities in the country. Heavy propaganda has been the only way the homegrown vaccines were “introduced” to the public. On the other hand, Khamenei banned importing vaccines made in US, UK and France, setting up another hurdle for Iranians to receive reliable shots to have a chance at curtailing yet another catastrophic wave of coronavirus throughout the country. The foreign and domestic vaccines together with immunization process in Iran is reviewed here and will be updated as more information becomes available.
On December 2, 2020, Health Minister of Islamic Republic announced 16.8 million doses were ordered through COVAX system, enough for 8.4 million people. COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access program, sponsored by WHO, is an initiative aimed at equitable access to vaccines across the globe. Despite blaming sanctions for every regime shortcoming, they could pay 52 million euro to this program! First batch of AstraZeneca vaccine containing 700,800 doses arrived on April 5.
Cuban Soberana 02
Saeed Namaki had emphasized he would never allow Iranians to become guinea pigs for other countries developing their vaccines. That statement did not hold true for long, since a few days later, FDA Spokesman announced the third phase of Cuban Soberana 02 will be carried out on 50,000 Iranian, and in March the 100,000 doses arrived in Iran. April 18, 2021, Kianoush Jahanpur said the vaccine received its approval from National Research Ethics Committee to begin its trial. This vaccine is to be rebranded as Iranian made by Pasteur Institute.
Russian Sputnik V
On January 26, 2021, two days before FDA approves the “emergency use” of Russian coronavirus vaccine, Islamic Republic Foreign Minister approved it in his trip to Russia! Zarif also announced there would be collaboration between the two country to manufacture Sputnik V in Iran. However, his speech sparked a conflict among health authorities. Dr. Minoo Mohraz, a member of National Task Force, rebuked the officials for sudden approval of Sputnik V without consulting with scientists and seeing its clinical trials results. Iran Medical Board joined in and questioned the vaccine’s efficacy and safety while they all emphatically said they would not use this vaccine! Even Chairman of Health Commission at Islamic Consultative Assembly reiterated he won’t get Sputnik V.
First batch containing 20,000 doses arrived on February 4, 2021 and right before 1979 Islamic Revolution anniversary, the national vaccination program began. On a dare, Health Minister’s son received the first jab, on February 9. Later on, Minoo Mohraz confirmed local reports that several nurses and physicians fell ill after receiving their Russian shots, despite other officials denying such reports. Regime’s ambassador to Moscow on April 15, announced 60million doses of Sputnik V will be delivered to Iran from June until the end of fall 2021. 520,000 doses in 5 batches have been imported until April 1.
Islamic Republic received “donations” from China! Sinopharm with a questionable safety and efficacy record has become one of the main vaccines used in Iran. Chinese CDC official admitted Sinopharm’s efficacy is less than expected, especially considering the new variants, and a Chinese health expert named the vaccine “the most unsafe vaccine in the world” with 73 complications. However, these facts haven’t stopped the theocratic regime to accept the “free gifts.” So far, 650,000 doses of the ineffective vaccine have entered the country.
Indian Covaxin & Others
India’s Covaxin is another foreign vaccine Islamic Republic has imported! Despite the initial agreement to receive half a million doses, only 125,000 were delivered on March 10, 2021. Judiciary of India intervened and stopped the next batch because coronavirus cases resurged in India.
On April 18, 2021, Dr. Mostafa Ghanei, head of Scientific Subcommittee of National Corona Combating Task Force, announced in addition to collaborations with Russia and Cuba, there is a possibility of cooperation with Japan. The potential agreement will allow the Japanese to run their third phase of clinical trials in Iran. Ghanei had previously criticized the decision not to participate in clinical trials. He said United Arab Emirates or other countries such as Israel took part in Pfizer’s or other manufacturers’ trials, receiving vaccines faster and in bigger batches.
According to regime authorities, there are 7 vaccines in the pipe using different techniques.
The first and main domestic vaccine which has been in the state-controlled media the most is COVIran Barekat. It is sponsored by “Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order” which is under direct supervision of Ali Khamenei, the “Supreme Leader!” However, it is registered as a product of Shifa-Pharmed! Dr. Minoo Mohraz is one of its principal investigators and Mohammadreza Hosseinpour is listed as its official “sponsor.” It uses “inactivated” virus to provoke a response by body’s immune system, the same technique as Chinese Sinopharm and in reality, with the same efficacy. Minoo Mohraz had previously stated in its animal studies, its efficacy was around 70%!
On December 2, 2020, FDA Spokesman tweeted COVIran Barekat is approved by the “National Research Ethics Committee” to start its clinical trials. The first phase was postponed several times. According to Ministry of Health, the clinical trials of COVIran are supposedly “double blinded and randomized.” However, in the inauguration ceremony of the first phase on December 29, 3 people were paraded in front of state TV cameras, knowing they were receiving a shot of the vaccine! The results of the first phase were not released to the public.
Mohammad Mokhber, Chairman of “Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order” on the starting day of second and third phase, on March 15, 2021, said, “COVIran Barekat had the least complications, and its efficacy was more than 90%.” On the same day, he opened a small factory in Alborz province as a site for “semi-industrial” production of the vaccine claiming it will make 2-3million dose every month. On April 5, FDA Spokesman spouted off about “the biggest vaccine factory in the region” being built for manufacturing 12 million dose a month! Jahanpur shared a time lapse clip, showing 80% progress in 80 days. Something almost impossible considering how things work in Iran. Comments under his tweet were all calling him out for his lies.
Saeed Namaki, Mohammad Mokhber, Ghanei and Jahanpur have all claimed by the end of spring COVIran Barekat will be ready for mass immunization.
Razi Institute has begun its first phase clinical trials for “COVPars.” It is based on “protein subunit” technique.
Defensive Innovation and Research Organization, a subsidiary of Islamic Republic Defense Ministry, also introduced its “inactivated” virus vaccine called “FakhraVac.” Its namesake, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed in Tehran, allegedly by Israeli operatives. He was known as a physicist and “nuclear scientist” but apparently, he was also an immunologist, microbiologist and biotechnology expert. Islamic Republic officials have repeatedly claimed he was behind this product.
National Vaccination Program:
Since the first injection on February 9, the officials have been promising different dates and priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination. According to the “National Vaccination Guidelines” published on February 10, 70% of the population, 60million people, need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity. The goal is set to achieve by March 20, 2022. That means 12 million doses a month, 210,000 doses a day.
The process is divided into 4 phases. First phase covers healthcare workers (private and public sectors) in direct contact with the virus (700,000), residents of nursing homes and veterans with lung involvements (600,000) which should be done by the end of winter 2021. Which was never accomplished and according to Ministry of Health data, only 127,594 have been fully vaccinated until April 18.
Bloomberg vaccine tracker estimates at the current daily average, it takes more than 10 years for Iran to reach immunity.
According to Ministry of Health, as of April 18, 2021, 20 provinces are experiencing a steep uptrend of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Analyzing of graphs indicate hospitalizations have multiplied 6.1 times compared to the previous wave and deaths increased by 4.1. Hospitals are at full capacity and field hospitals have been erected in several provinces. The bleak situation has not stopped the Health Minister. Saeed Namaki announced crowded gatherings during Qadr nights in all cities are allowed. He even encouraged such gatherings in another speech. Scores of people get together to pray in poorly ventilated mosques. Last year, an outbreak of cases began as a result of Qadr nights and Eid Fitr rituals.
Additionally, people have lost their trust in anything the regime officials state. The government has refused to support citizens during 14months of the pandemic. Iranians have been forced to stand in long lines for their basic needs such as cooking oil and chicken where no social distancing is observed. On the other hand, religious leaders continue to hold their gatherings on religious occasions, Friday Prayers and in mosques.
While neighboring countries such as Turkey and United Arab Emirates have intensified their vaccination programs, Islamic Republic is administering few thousands of doses a day. According to official statistics, on average, 0.019 per 100 Iranian receive a COVID-19 shot every day.
The implementation of the guideline has been widely criticized by officials and healthcare staff. While parents of martyrs have been vaccinated despite not being on the priority list, only 40% of public healthcare workers have received a shot including none in the private sector! Ministry of Health was not reporting any data on the vaccination until secretary-general of House for Nurses rebuked the officials for being shady and obscure about the whole process.
In addition to physicians complaining about some non-health professionals receiving shots and reports of black-market sells, the “street cleaners” have suddenly made it to the priority list! Mid-March, state-controlled media began a massive campaign about “street cleaners” across Iran receiving vaccines. While front-line workers are deprived of this chance, rumors began to surface that Islamic Republic is testing Cuban or an unknown agent on people without their knowledge. On the other hand, this sketchy process opened the way for corrupt Islamic Republic officials to enter their own names as “street cleaners” and receive vaccines. One of such shameful acts made it to media when locals reported it on social media and Abadan Medical College confirmed it. The second report is from Golestan.
President of Islamic Republic has been advocating for private companies to import vaccines, saying there is no time to waste until Iranian vaccines are ready. Hassan Rouhani was clear that people with money should be given priority and pay their way to immunization. His plan was widely criticized by people and health authorities.
With less than 0.2% of Iranians vaccinated so far, lack of reliable source, non-transparent vaccination process, questionable homegrown shots, fourth coronavirus wave, emerging variants and corruption at every level of the Islamic Republic regime, a humanitarian catastrophe has been in the works for more than 14 months.
Cover: Mostafa Roudaki