By Pouyan Khoshhal
December 29, 2020
It has been seven weeks since new lockdowns came into effect across Iran. On Sunday, December 25 the officially-recorded number of coronavirus fatalities was 119 compared to close to 500 around a month ago. Even if, as many officials believe, the true figure could be double or triple this many, it remains a significant decrease.
A debate continues to rage over when and how Covid-19 vaccinations will get underway. Iran is several steps behind many other countries in procuring a foreign-made vaccine and many officials have expressed a preference for an Iranian-made vaccine instead, even though this might be impossibly far away at a time when new cases and deaths are still being recorded.
The Committee for the Execution of Imam’s Order, an organization under the direct control of the Supreme Leader, is overseeing the development of an Iranian vaccine. In his latest statement about the project, organization chief Mohammad Mokhabber claimed that within the next 40 days “we will have the capacity to produce 1.5 million doses of vaccine per month and in six months we will produce 12 million doses. After satisfying our own needs we will be able to export the vaccine as well. An Iranian coronavirus vaccine is not inferior to vaccines developed in other parts of the world.”
Mokhabber said that as of Sunday, December 27, some 36,000 people had registered as volunteers for clinical trials. But “unfortunately”, he said, only 56 people can be accepted onto the trial. According to him, the first trial in a human subject will take place in two or three days.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki went further. “We will prove in the near future that the Iranian vaccine is better than many vaccines that they are making around the world,” he said. “Fortunately, human testing is on the way and people should have faith in the capability of these researchers.”
Namaki reiterated that the coronavirus strain B117 detected in Britain has not been observed in Iran, despite a previous claim by a ministry official that the recent hike in cases and deaths could have been due to this same mutation.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that production of a domestic vaccine could start by January 19. Elderly people as well as those with underlying illnesses have been prioritized as the first group to be vaccinated, Rahmani Fazli announced. Health workers will reportedly be next to be inoculated, followed by those who have had the most exposure to infected people.
In recent days, however, there has also been talk about buying a vaccine from China. On Saturday, December 26, Karim Hemmati, president of the Iranian Red Crescent, had said his organization intends to independently buy coronavirus vaccines from this country. On Sunday he confirmed: “The Red Crescent will buy one million doses of vaccine from China and the rest, about 20 million doses, will be supplied by the health ministry.” According to Hemmati, the Red Crescent has been directed by the Health Ministry to buy the Chinese vaccine.