By Pouyan Khoshhal
July 31, 2021
The vaccination campaign in Iran, at least according to the Health Ministry, has finally picked up speed. The official statistics show that about 400,000 Iranians are now receiving a Covid-19 jab every day.
The Iranian authorities now face a race against time. The spread of the Delta variant has seen the rate new infections soar across the country and the officially-recorded number of daily Covid-19 fatalities is now around 300.
The Delta variant spreads much more rapidly than the “original” strain of SARS-CoV-2 that hit Iran so catastrophically last year. Hospitals are already at capacity before scientists believe the “fifth wave” will reach its peak. Beds earmarked for armed forces and social security patients have now been repurposed for Covid-19 patients. The situation in Tehran has been described by Iranian media as “explosive” and even “beyond repair”.
After months-long delays, hundreds of thousands of Iranians are now reportedly receiving a dose of Covid-19 vaccine each day. It might be about the only good nationwide news to be found in Iran at the moment amid the water crisis, blackouts and internet shutdowns.
In that time, the compliance of an exhausted with health protocols such as mask-wearing has – according to the authorities – dropped to below 50 percent. Hospital staff on packed have likened the sudden uptick in vaccination to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
According to the Health Ministry, as of Thursday, July 29, a total of 11,808,230 doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been administrated in Iran. The Food and Drug Administration claimed that more than 500,000 of these were the domestically-manufactured CovIran-Barekat, while the majority were the Chinese-made Sinopharm.
Meanwhile, reportedly for the first time, the private sector has successfully imported around 320,000 doses of AstraZeneca. Nasser Riahi, president of the Association of Drug Importers, said that around 380,000 more doses of this vaccine are due to arrive next week. By the second half of August, he added, a million doses would be available to the Health Ministry.
A pharmacologist told IranWire that AstraZeneca had, in fact, been imported to Iran and used on some patients in June. The new doses, he said, would likely go to the same people for their second jab.
“According to their own figures,” he added, “they are distributing 400,000 doses of vaccine a day at the moment. That means this batch [of AstraZeneca] is just enough for one day.
“They’d better speed up, because time is running out. In fact, it’s already run out.”
The government has announced that for the time being, anyone aged over 58 is eligible to receive a Covid-19 jab. On Thursday it also began the targeted vaccination of some high-risk groups including reporters, taxi drivers, land, air and sea transport drivers, firefighters, teachers, judges, court staff, prisoners and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes.
“Black Market for Beds” Explodes Across Tehran
Hospitals across Iran are in a critical situation. In Tehran, the number of Covid-19 inpatients surged from 8,000 to more than 10,000 in just one week. Officials of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences report that Covid-19 patients from hospitals in Tehran and Alborz are “overflowing” into hospitals in Qazvin because those provinces have run out of beds.
“The number of outpatients, inpatients and patients in a critical condition in need of ventilators has increased significantly,” said Nader Tavakoli, deputy director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce. “We have not yet reached the peak of the fifth wave but the number of inpatients in Tehran has already passed 10,000.”
The shortage of hospital beds has led, perhaps inevitably, to a black market for beds. Last week Tejarat News reported that at one location, hospital beds could be illicitly bought for 30 million tomans (close to $7,300). And on July 29, the companion of a Covid-19 patient told Mehr News Agency that the price of some hospital beds had reached 50 million tomans (more than $12,100).
Also on July 29, Tehran Emergency Services announced that no empty beds were available anywhere in the city. It people not to attempt to travel from hospital to hospital in search of a bed, but to stay put and wait in the emergency room.
Mohsen Hashemi, chairman of Tehran City Council, said Covid-19 is claiming the lives of more than 150 people in the capital every day. If true, it would mean Covid-19 deaths in Iran currently account for half of the daily total across Iran’s 31 provinces.
Lockdown Escapees Spread the Delta Variant in Northern Iran
Last week a six-day lockdown was imposed in Tehran and Alborz. But before it came into effect, around half a million people from Tehran left the province in private cars, heading mostly for the picturesque and green northern regions. As such it has since been reported that the “lockdown” in fact helped the Delta variant to spread elsewhere.
The three northern provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan are no longer on “red” alert for coronavirus transmission but “black”: or so claimed Rahmatollah Nowroozi, an MP for Golestan. “Patients are sleeping in the hospital corridors,” he said.
The situation in Mazandaran, west of Golestan, is also reportedly dire. According to Simin Babaei, spokeswoman for Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences, hospitals in the cities of Amol, Qaemshahr, and Sari are at capacity. “The contagion is picking up speed and we haven’t yet reached the peak,” she said, adding that government hospitals were having to send patients to private facilities and sites belonging to the Social Security Organization.
The city of Tonekabon in Mazandaran has been described as being in a “super-critical” state, with medical staff exhausted and at least two ICUs at capacity. A group of local epidemiologists have asked for a 10-day total shutdown of businesses.
In the neighboring province of Gilan, between 6,000 to 8,000 new cases of infection with the Delta variant are being diagnosed each day. Gilan University of Medical Sciences reports that there are more than 1,100 Covid-19 patients in the country’s hospitals, of whom 150 are in a serious condition.
Razi Hospital in Rasht, the capital of Gilan, is reportedly transferring non-Covid-19 patients to other hospitals after dark. “This week the number of whole families coming into hospital together has increased,” a nurse at Razi Hospital told IranWire. “In just one 12-hour shift, we watched 11 patients die.”
She said most of the fatalities were people aged under 60 who had not yet received a Covid-19 vaccine. “We do have a number of over-60s hospitalized as well,” she said, “but they’re not as seriously ill and usually get discharged in a few hours, or at most a few days. I can see the vaccine’s effectiveness. The worst thing is the deaths of young people.”