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Iran Says Will Press Ahead With Vaccines Alongside Cuba, Russia And China

Iran has advanced in procuring Covid-19 vaccines “with its partners” China, India and Cuba, the spokesman of the foreign ministry Saeed Khatibzadeh told his regular press briefing on Monday [January 11] and promised the government would keep the public informed.

Khatibzadeh insisted Iran had not politicized the Covid pandemic or vaccinations, his remarks coming days after Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, on Friday banned the purchase of British and American-made vaccines.

Khamenei’s claim that these vaccines were “unreliable” and possibly dangerous – he referred to Iran’s experience importing HIV-contaminated blood products from France in the 1980s – led to widespread criticism on social media pointing out that the leader lacked the medical expertise to judge. In response, hardliners have echoed Khamenei’s decision, even suggesting US or British vaccines might be a weapon for mass-killing Iranians. In a Twitter post subsequently deleted by the social media giant, Khamenei wrote it was “not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations.”

Khamenei’s ban apparently means that Iran cannot get vaccines through the World Health Organization’s Covax mechanism, which was supposed to supply 16 million doses for 8 million people. Khatibzadeh said that Tehran has asked for “another reliable vaccine,” without naming the producer. It is not clear what other vaccines he was referring to.

Russia and China, the two top non-Western contenders for a workable vaccine, have not received WHO approval as both countries still need to release more complete data. Some countries such as the United Arab Emirates are already using the Chinese vaccine, but South Africa has said it is unlikely to approve either products without more data. The European Union is not using either vaccines as Moscow and Beijing have not applied for EU approval.

According to Reuters, Communist-run Cuba announced on Friday it had signed a deal with Iran to transfer the technology for its most advanced coronavirus vaccine candidate and to carry out last-stage clinical trials in the Islamic Republic. Iran has also been insisting it is producing its own vaccine, which will not be available for at least six months.

President Hassan Rouhani said on television on Saturday [January 11] that while Iranians would not be used as a “testing device for foreign companies,” Tehran would “purchase safe foreign vaccines.” Rouhani urged Iranians to wear masks and follow public health protocols even when vaccinations began.

The WHO reported on Monday the start of delivery of $50 million in medical equipment in collaboration with the Iranian Health Ministry to 136 public hospitals and 43 laboratories as a collaboration “to support the country’s health care system in diagnosing and treating patients with COVID-19.”

The ministry reported 6,208 new Covid cases on Monday, with 91 deaths, showing declining numbers as strict lockdown measures continue. 

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