Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says he has banned the government from importing COVID-19 vaccines made in the United States or United Kingdom even as his country grapples with the worst coronavirus outbreak in the region.
“Imports of US and British vaccines into the country are banned. I have told this to officials, and I'm saying it publicly now," Khamenei said, according to a Reuters translation of televised remarks. "I have no confidence in them,” he said. “If the Americans were able to produce a vaccine, they would not have such a coronavirus fiasco in their own country."
“Given our experience with France’s HIV-tainted blood supplies, French vaccines aren’t trustworthy either,” Khamenei said in a reference to France’s scandal involving contaminated blood transfusions during the AIDS epidemic.
The Iranian Red Crescent Society said in a statement Friday that it would no longer deliver 150,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the organization said had been donated by overseas benefactors.
Iran, which in late December launched human trials of its own vaccine, has sought supplies elsewhere. The Red Crescent said last week that China would donate one million doses to Iran. Separately, the Central Bank of Iran said would pay for 16.8 million doses through the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative, a purchasing pool to deliver vaccinations to poorer countries.
Iran remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East. The Iranian Health Ministry recorded 6,251 cases on Friday, raising the country’s total number of infections since February to more than 1.2 million. With the addition of 85 more fatalities, the official death toll now stands at 56,018.
On Tuesday, Iran reported its first case of the new coronavirus variant, which emerged in the United Kingdom last month and is believed by some experts to be more contagious. Health Minister Saeed Namaki said the patient is an Iranian citizen who flew home from the United Kingdom and is now receiving treatment in a private hospital.
Tensions between Iran and the West are running high over the anniversary of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani’s death and the Donald Trump administration’s continued sanctions campaign.
Iran’s leaders say the harsh economic sanctions, which Washington reimposed after pulling out of the landmark Iranian nuclear agreement in 2018, have made it difficult for their country to access vaccines. The Trump administration maintains that vaccines and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from the sanctions.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to return the United States to the nuclear accord if Tehran meets its obligations under the deal. On Monday, Iran announced that its Fordow nuclear facility has resumed enriching uranium to 20%, a major breach of the original agreement.