By Pouyan Khoshhal
December 16, 2020
The Iranian Ministry of Health claims that currently only four provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran, Fars and Kerman are in a “red” state of alert with regard to the spread of coronavirus. Nevertheless, worries persist that the situation in the 228 cities designated “orange” is delicate and could easily worsen again.
Conflicting statements continue to be made by officials in discussions about a possible Iranian-made Covid-19 vaccine. Yesterday health minister Saeed Namaki claimed that an Iranian vaccine would be ready in the spring but today, health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that if the clinical testing proves successful by late January, vaccine distribution could begin by early summer. According to Dr. Lari, four domestic companies are currently engaged in the development of an Iranian vaccine and one of these is now in the phase of clinical testing on humans. High-risk groups, she said, would be the first to receive a vaccine.
In the meantime, Dr. Lari also reported that Iran is in talks with India, Russia and China about purchasing a foreign-made coronavirus vaccine. “Because of American sanctions, we have difficulty in conducting currency transactions to buy vaccines,” she said.
While senior health ministry officials have been complaining on a daily basis about the difficulties in purchasing the vaccine from COVAX – a global initiative launched by the World Health Organization that aims to provide equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines – the US Treasury Department is understood to have given the green light to Iran buying vaccines from COVAX. Despite this, Iranian officials have also said the country cannot buy the Pfizer vaccine because of its need to be stored at low temperatures.
“This vaccine needs to be kept at 70 degrees below zero both during transportation and in storage,” said Siamak Sameei, director-general of the Ministry of Health’s laboratories department. “We don’t have the necessary facilities for this and many other countries do not have such facilities either. In our country, currently we have only equipment that can maintain a temperature of minus 20 degrees.”
Even though the number of hospitalizations in the city of Tehran has fallen by 40 percent, the situation in this city remains “fragile”, said Nader Tavakoli, deputy director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce. However, he reported that all hospitals in Tehran now have beds available for new patients. “Coronavirus patients in government hospitals have to pay only 8 to 10 percent of the costs, and the rest will be covered by insurance,” he said, “but if patients are in financial difficulty they do not have to pay even this percentage.”