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Iran Supreme Leader Bans US, UK Covid Vaccines Amid High Casualties

Ali Khamenei has ruled out importing US and UK-made coronavirus vaccines, apparently including purchase through the World Health Organization’s Covax facility. “They can’t be relied on and trusted,” Khamenei said, in a video released on Friday [January 8] “Sometimes they want to test [their products] on other nations…Importing the American and British vaccines is banned.”

Iranian officials repeatedly claimed US sanctions prevent payment for foreign vaccines, but later admitted that the US had issued permission. With Khamenei’s ban, the controversy about US sanctions might end for now.

In a video released Friday [January 8] Khamenei declared the Covid situation in the United States, where over 374,000 people have so far died, would not have been so bad if the Pfizer company's vaccine was effective. The Covax facility currently includes only the US-made Pfizer and Modena vaccines and the British-made Oxford vaccine. 

Khamenei strongly supported Iran's homegrown vaccine. “It’s a source of pride for the country,” he said, criticized those expressing doubt over its efficacy. “They mustn't try to deny it."

Khamenei’s speech – released on the anniversary of demonstrations in the religious center of Qom in 1979 that heralded the fall of the Pahlavi Shah – chimes with views expressed by Iran’s principlists. His words may be less welcome to the government of President Hassan Rouhani and to health officials, who have spoken of various plans including buying vaccines through the Covax program, joint production with Cuba, direct purchase from several countries including China, Russia and India, and using homegrown vaccines as they become available.

Khamenei said he was also wary of France, with its “record of contaminated blood,” a reference to French HIV-contaminated blood products for hemophiliacs that could have spread Aids in Iran and other countries in the 1980s.

Sourcing the Covid vaccine has become a highly politicized in Iran. There has been strong public criticism to import vaccines, while officials have been promoting a homegrown version, which they say will take months to be produced. More than 56,000 have died according to the government, which many say vastly underreports the true numbers.

Rouhani has told the public that the vaccine will be “both imported and produced at home.” He said on December 30: “Arguing over whether it’s better to import the vaccine or produce it is like arguing over whether our weapons should be made domestically or imported at the time of war.”

Hardliners, who in general extol self-sufficiency, have claimed imported vaccines could be used as a biological weapon. Last week a senior Revolutionary Guards commander said that western companies producing the Covid vaccine wanted to reduce world overpopulation. “How can one trust them in such circumstances?” asked Brigadier-General Mohammadreza Naghdi on January 1,  advising Guards to wait until a homegrown vaccine was widly available.

Shifa Pharmed, the pharmaceutical company claiming to have brought a vaccine made up of pathogens grown in culture to human testing, has said its product will be available for mass vaccination in six or seven months. The company is owned by Barakat Foundation, a charitable foundation and business group controlled by Khamenei and as such unaccountable to the government.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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