Iran starts Covid-19 vaccination campaign

by AFP

TEHRAN – Iran began its Covid-19 vaccination campaign on Tuesday using Russia’s Sputnik V jab to fight the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the illness.

The first doses were given to doctors and nurses at Imam Khomeini hospital in the capital Tehran, with recipients handed a blue card marked with “Sputnik V” and the date of the injection.

“We begin our national vaccination against the Covid-19 virus… (in) memory of the martyrdom of health workers,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said, referring to medical personnel who have died from the disease.

The Islamic republic has bought two million doses of Sputnik V, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told AFP on Saturday.

The first doses of the Russian vaccine arrived last Thursday in Tehran, with two more shipments expected by February 18 and 28, according to Iranian authorities. 

The Russian vaccine achieves a 91.6 percent efficacy against symptomatic forms of Covid-19, according to an analysis of clinical trials published in top medical journal the Lancet a week ago.

The virus has infected 1.4 million people in Iran and killed more than 58,600, according to the health ministry. 

Since the start of January, the number of deaths attributed to the disease daily has fallen below 100, for the first time since June. 

But the health ministry last week warned that the epidemiological situation remained “fragile”.

Double crisis

Alongside the pandemic, Iran remains mired in an economic crisis, triggered by the US reimposing crippling sanctions from 2018 under the administration of former president Donald Trump.

Iranian authorities have said that the sanctions impede the purchase of vaccines. 

In theory, medical purchases are sanctions exempt, but many international banks are averse to any transactions with the Islamic republic, for fear of litigation.

However, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said last week that Iran would, in addition to the Sputnik deliveries, also receive 4.2 million doses of the vaccine developed by Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

The AstraZeneca shots are to be purchased via the international vaccine mechanism Covax.

Iran started clinical trials of its own first locally developed vaccine in late December and on Monday unveiled a second homegrown vaccine project. 

The second Iranian vaccine, dubbed Razi Cov Pars, was developed at the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute, which is linked to the agriculture ministry, according to Massoud Soleimani, a member of Iran’s national vaccine committee.