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Khamenei Never Banned Foreign Vaccines, Hardliners Claim

Supreme leader Ali Khamenei did not ban foreign vaccines, and any blame for mismanaging the Covid-19 pandemic in Iran lies with former president Hassan Rouhani and his government, especially the health ministry − that’s the message in recent days from principlist media outlets and officials in the Revolutionary Guards.

Is a group effort underway to deflect any responsibility for the current daily death toll of around 700 from Khamenei? And, at the same time, to establish grounds for later praising the ‘success’ of new President Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) as Iran’s vaccination program splutters into life?

"Regarding vaccine imports, enemy media want to cast the blame…although the leader of the revolution has always advised the authorities to import vaccines," the IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif said Wednesday evening in a speech to journalists in Kermanshah exposing “enemy psychological operations.”

Buy from reliable sources

Mehdi Fazaeli, a member of Khamenei's office, in a tweet Wednesday claimed Khamenei had never banned "any particular vaccine" and insisted only on "buying …from reliable sources". The leader, he explained, did not and does not consider the purchase of vaccines from the United States, Britain and France "for certain reasons" but there was, and is, no impediment to buying the same vaccines if produced in other countries.

Khamenei ruled out importing United States- and British-made Covid-19 vaccines in January on the grounds that western drugs companies had a track record of testing products in developing countries and that it was “not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations.” At the time, the US-German Pfizer, US-made Modern and the British-made AstraZeneca were the leading vaccines in gaining approval internationally, although Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates had approved use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

While acknowledging that US financial sanctions complicated Iran’s access to vaccines, even though the World Health Organization Covax program, Human Rights Watch immediately reacted to Khamenei’s ban by condemning “moves to politicize vaccine acquisition” as “irresponsible and dangerous.”

Many health professionals, in Iran and abroad, have criticized Khamenei's ban and his strong emphasis on developing a domestic vaccine for slowing down vaccinations. But direct criticism of the leader led to the arrest August 15 of five lawyers and a civil rights activist for planning action against him and others in authority for mismanagement of the pandemic.

Manipulate the data

So far, Iran has administered nearly 24 million doses of all vaccines including Sinopharm, the Russian Sputnik V, India’s Covaxin (Bharat), AstraZeneca produced in South Korea and Japan, and the domestically-produced CovIran Barakat (with around 2.2 million doses).

While health officials have been suggesting since April 2020 that Covid numbers have been underplayed, Javan newspaper, which generally favors a principlist approach, published Wednesday a claim from Kourosh Halakouei-Naeini, a professor of epidemiology at Tehran University of Medical Science, that that the real death figures were seven times the official figures, at least in some of Iran.

Halakouei-Naeini said the health ministry “manipulates the data.” But, all of a sudden, sevenfold? Health professionals had generally suggested the actual figures were around double to three times those of the health ministry.

Fortunately, Iran has a new president at the helm. Raisi, who received his first shot of Cov-Iran in early August, has said tackling Covid is his top priority. Will the figures soon show his success?

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