Iran officials defend ban on US, UK COVID vaccines

Iranian officials have said they will begin vaccinating their population in the spring and do not have confidence in Western vaccines.

al-monitor A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Oct. 24, 2020, shows him wearing a protective face mask as he gives a speech in the capital, Tehran, during a meeting of the national staff to discuss the issue of the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. Photo by KHAMENEI.IR/AFP via Getty Images.

Jan 11, 2021

After Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated publicly that Iran would ban any Western vaccine for the coronavirus, a number of officials have come to his defense over the decision.

On Jan. 8, Khamenei said he had already informed Iranian officials that vaccines from the United States and the United Kingdom have been banned. He said he has “no confidence” in the vaccines produced in those countries and claimed that if they were so effective the countries would not be experiencing such a difficult time with the virus. Khamenei also referenced a bitter experience for Iran when they imported blood from France that was tainted with HIV, while claiming that Western vaccines are not reliable.

When Khamenei’s Twitter account tweeted these statements, Twitter quickly took action. Twitter said the tweet was in violation of its policies against misinformation about the coronavirus. They locked the account until the account holder removed the tweet. Khamenei’s office and not himself likely operates the Twitter account.

Iran’s Red Crescent had said that a sponsor in the United States was going to send 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Iran. This number was later reduced to 15,000, though the reason for the discrepancy was never explained.

The most prominent official to back Khamenei’s ban on Western vaccines so far has been Health Minister Saeed Namaki. “The ban on American and UK vaccines by the supreme leader was based on widespread scientific research and was completely out of sympathy toward the people,” Namaki said yesterday. He said these countries have blocked the transfer of money to purchase medicine while Iran battled the coronavirus.

Namaki said Iran would have its own vaccine by spring, and tests on humans so far have been “very successful.” Iran began publicly testing humans with its vaccine in recent weeks.

Head of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Iran Alireza Marandi also defended the position to ban Western COVID-19 vaccines in a letter addressed to Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations. “We are ready to give any vaccine that we are confident about to the people,” Marandi wrote. He claimed the vaccine had yet to be proven “adequately” effective. The letter also criticized the Western sanctions on Iran that have made it difficult for the country to purchase medicine. While medical supplies specifically are not sanctioned by the United States, many firms choose to avoid financial transactions with Iran due to sanctions on financial transactions with the country.

While Iran has been one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus, it once again brought its numbers down after experiencing its third wave recently. Until recently, Iran experienced a daily death toll well into the 300s. In the last 24 hours, 91 deaths have occurred, according to the Health Ministry. The country’s total number of deaths from COVID-19 is over 56,000, but officials have said it’s possible that the actual number of deaths could be twice as high.

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