In late 2019 into early 2020 Iran was among the first countries outside of China to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic (alongside Italy). Due to its international isolation and the crippling US-led sanctions on the Islamic Republic, it is also likely to be the last to access a vaccine for its vulnerable population.
While the US State Dept. has repeatedly claimed sanctions don’t restrict humanitarian goods like medicines, the reality is that Western and international companies have remained too concerned about punitive consequences for doing any level of business with Iran. Restrictions on Iran’s access to international banking has also severely limited its ability to procure a vaccine.
This means Tehran will naturally look to US rivals like Russian and China for help. At the same time, Iran is reportedly rushing to produce and test its own domestic-made vaccine. Cuba is reportedly assisting Iran in these efforts, according to state sources.
And according to Russian media, talks for the Islamic Republic to potentially procure one of two Russian vaccines are already in the works.
“Iran and Russia are preparing a personal meeting on cooperation in producing the vaccine against the novel coronavirus, Iranian Ambassador to Russia Kazem Jalali said in an interview with Izvestia newspaper published on Sunday,” reports TASS.
“The phone conversations in April-October 2020 between the presidents of Iran and Russia underlined Iran’s interest in cooperation with Russia in the field of producing the coronavirus vaccine and exchanging the experience. Currently, Russian documents on the vaccines are being studied. It has been decided that soon a personal meeting will take place,” the Iranian envoy said.
Meanwhile, here’s what state media sources had to say on the joint Iranian-Cuban vaccine venture:
The first batch of coronavirus vaccine which will reach Iran will be probably purchased directly from a foreign country, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Friday.
“Following that, Iran will receive its share of the COVAX vaccines and then the Pasteur Institute of Iran will co-produce a vaccine with a Cuban company, and finally, the domestically-made vaccine will be produced,” he explained, IRNA reported.
He went on to say that the human trial phase of the vaccine has been carried out successfully in Cuba. “The second phase of the human trial is being conducted under the supervision of the Pasteur Institute of Iran in Cuba. Provide that the second phase is successful, the third phase will be implemented in Iran.” On December 29, 2020, the first coronavirus vaccine made by Iranian researchers, was unveiled and injected into three volunteers.
The production line of the Iranian coronavirus vaccine with a capacity of 1.5 million doses per month will be launched within the next 40 days. By the next six months, vaccine production will reach up to 12 million doses per month.
Iran has over 1.2 million confirmed cases thus far, among these 55,540 deaths, but Iranian health authorities have long said the true infected numbers are in the multiple millions, given the rapid community spread and lack of testing that was a problem early on in 2020.