By Pouyan Khoshha
June 11, 2021
“Until further notice, we have no coronavirus vaccines”.
This notice pinned to doors has greeted visitors to many vaccination centers in Iran over the past week. Elderly people aged over 70 are supposed to be receiving their second jab now, but countless patients have been turned away. This is deeply worrying because of the time-frame in which the second shot should be administered in order that the first be effective.
The public response of Iran’s top health officials has only exacerbated people’s concerns. The Health Ministry had previously claimed that a few weeks’ delay, or even a month, would not adversely affect the efficacy of the vaccine. No-one was convinced by this, and now to make matter worse, the Health Ministry has taken the unprecedented step of “mitigating” the crisis by mixing and matching imported vaccines with domestically-made ones.
Chinese and Russian “Brothers” Broke Their Promises
On May 8, President Rouhani promised that Iran would have imported eight million doses of Covid-19 vaccine by late May. This encouraged the Health Ministry to use up the remaining available doses as quickly as possible and, by June 10, of the six million available doses some 4,289,395 had been administered as first jabs. Now, as a consequence, health centers in many provinces including Tehran, Khuzestan, Markazi, Qom and Fars announced that they have no supplementary doses left.
On Tuesday, June 8, Hossein Kermanpour, the director of public relations for Iran’s Medical Council, blamed Iran’s “Chinese brothers” for reneging on their promise to deliver eight million doses of Sinopharm to the country. He said this was the reason patients who received Sinopharm the first time round were now being left in limbo.
Meanwhile Alireza Naji, head of Iran’s Virology Research Center and a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s scientific committee, said it was not just Chinese but also Russian manufacturers that were to blame. Of the around six million doses of vaccine imported by Iran so far, just 920,000 were the Russian-made Sputnik V.
The Importance of the Interval Between Doses
Depending on the make of vaccine and government guidance, the suggested interval between doses starts at 21 days and can run to up to 11 weeks. In the case of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, the generally-accepted interval is no longer than 42 days because of its comparatively lower efficacy rate. If this holds, it would render it useless to most Iranians who have received their first dose of Sinopharm so far.
Dr. Minoo Mohraz, another member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s scientific committee, said on June 8 that if for any reason the second dose was not administered after four weeks, the patient would have to begin their vaccination course all over again.
Kazem, a doctor of pharmacology who works for one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in Iran, told IranWire: “The interval is of the utmost importance and depends on the manufacturer. If their [recommended] interval is one month, then the second dose must be injected no later than a month.
“The vaccine increases the level of antibodies [in the body]. But if the doses are taken too far apart, the body’s immune system ‘forgets’ about the previous injection.” The wider the gap, he emphasized, the less effective it would be.
Get a “Domestic” Second Dose
With Iran’s domestic vaccination drive having now practically ground to a halt, the Health Ministry has begun instructing people to take a second dose of Iranian-made vaccine instead of the expected imported one.
On June 19, Mostafa Ghanei, chairman of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s scientific committee, asked people who had already received Sinopharm to accept the domestic CovIran-Barekat vaccine for their second shot. Those who received Sputnik or AstraZeneca, he said, could use the vaccine that Iran’s Pasteur Institute is developing jointly with Cuba.
“To complicate the issue of vaccination, especially when done by the Health Ministry, is to betray the people,” Dr. Kazem told IranWire. “Vaccination must be carried out on time if the goal is to eradicate Covid-19. Otherwise it’s the same as having had the first shot twice and from a scientific point of view, this is ridiculous.”
For his part, Dr. Kazem believes the supposed development of CovIran-Barekat has largely been a “show” put on by the Islamic Republic, coming as it does under the auspices of a massive conglomerate controlled by the Supreme Leader.
“What do I mean by a show?” he said. “No information about the studies conducted on this vaccine has been given to us: to the companies that are fully involved in the inoculation process. And when the results of these studies are not known, how can they have been researching using it as a substitute for the Chinese vaccine?
“When it comes to Covid-19 vaccines, the regime is mired in a swamp. The more it thrashes around by making these claims the deeper it sinks.
“Look at the composition of the vaccines that have been developed around the world. You can find out about them with a Google search. Some are similar in their composition, but this does not mean that they have the same efficacy rate. What’s more, they work very differently to each other. No vaccine can be swapped out for another without extensive research.”
Dr. Kazem himself has been inoculated with AstraZeneca as his first dose. “I would not accept a substitute for my second,” he says.
Official Coronavirus Statistics
According to the official statistics announced daily by the Health Ministry, a total of 1,014 patients in Iran lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending June 10. With 179 deaths recorded, June 8 saw the highest number of fatalities for the week. The number of confirmed cases dipped on June 5 but had almost doubled again on June 10.
At the week’s end, a total of 3,549 Covid-19 patients were being treated in ICUs while the officially-recorded number of infections in Iran since the outbreak began passed the three million mark. As of now just 742,817 Iranians, less than one percent of the population, have so far been fully inoculated.
At the end of the week 16 Iranian cities were on red alert for infection spread, 201 were rated orange and 231 were yellow. No city in Iran is currently on blue alert, the lowest-possible alert level.
Ebrahim Raeesi’s Reckless Campaign Event
At the same time as health officials were warning about the likelihood of a fifth coronavirus surge in Iran, on June 9 Ebrahim Raeesi, the country’s current chief justice and conservative frontrunner in Iran’s presidential election, went ahead with a campaign rally in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan province.
The event drew criticism from Iranian social media users and government officials alike. President Rouhani said on June 10: “Medical staff and health defenders do not expect those who are supposed to occupy the highest executive position in the country to abuse medical staff and make things difficult for them.” He ordered the responsible agencies to issue fresh warnings about attending pre-election events, with the “utmost seriousness and determination.”