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Iran to receive 150,000 Pfizer vaccines

Amid a controversy over Iran's ability to purchase the coronavirus vaccine, Tehran is set to receive 150,000 doses from US donors.

After controversy regarding Iran’s ability to purchase vaccine for the coronavirus, Iranian officials say the country is set to receive a batch of vaccine doses funded by unnamed US donors.

Karim Hemmati, head of Iran’s Red Crescent Society, said the country will import 150,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in "coordination with a group of benefactors in the US." He did not specify a timeline of when the vaccines will arrive but said Iran’s Health Ministry will be in charge. The controversy surrounding Iran’s inability to purchase the vaccine has been a major story domestically. 

Reports about the various vaccines that have begun to hit the market brought temporary hope to Iranians until Iran’s Central Bank said there were complications involved in purchasing vaccine. The issue, as seems to occur with seemingly all matters, quickly became political.

Former Iranian parliamentarian Ali Motahari tweeted that Iran’s attempt to purchase the vaccine was rejected because the country’s hard-liners had refused to pass Financial Action Task Force (FATF) legislation, an international anti-money laundering initiative. Moderates have argued that passing the legislation would give Iran access to international banks while the country’s conservatives have argued that the legislation would give other countries unnecessary access to Iran’s financial transactions. 

Ali Rabiei, a spokesman for President Hassan Rouhani's administration, said that part of the problem in transferring money was due to FATF but that it also had to do with the sanctions on Iran. While medicine is not technically subject to sanctions, many European firms choose to avoid financial transactions with Iran altogether in order to not come under the scrutiny of the US Treasury.

But on Dec. 24, Abdolnaser Hemmati, the head of Iran’s Central Bank, said outstanding issues regarding the transfer of money have been resolved

Iran has been one of the hardest-hit countries with the coronavirus. Officially, the country has lost nearly 55,000 people to COVID-19 but officials say the death toll is likely higher. The country has undergone numerous lockdowns and partial lockdowns in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus but given the current US sanctions more extreme economic decisions could not be made regarding the lockdowns. 

Iran has a population of 83 million and will need many more doses of the vaccines before the country can gain control over the coronavirus. Iraj Harirchi, the deputy health minister, said an Iranian vaccine will be available by spring. He added that Iran would import 20 million vaccines by March. Harirchi said Iran would also work with foreign countries to “jointly produce” vaccines. 

Health Minister Saeed Namaki said that following a difficult third wave in which Iran was reporting more than 300 deaths a day, the numbers have been brought down. Officials said that in the previous 24 hours, Iran recorded 121 deaths. Namaki also said that tests on humans of the Iranian vaccine started this week with one vaccine and that another vaccine will be tested the following week. He said the Iranian vaccine will be better than foreign ones.

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