Iran bans import of Covid-19 vaccine in UK and US says ‘completely unreliable’

Foreign companies are not allowed to test Covid-19 vaccines against the Iranian people, President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday, a day after the country’s top leaders banned the import of UK- and US-produced jabs, saying they were “completely unreliable”.

“Foreign companies wanted to give us vaccines so that they could be tested on the Iranian people. But the Ministry of Health prevented it,” Rouhani said in TV remarks without mentioning the companies or giving further details.

“Our staff will not be a test device for vaccine manufacturing companies,” he added. “We will buy safe foreign vaccines.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, had said on Friday that the United States and Britain were “unreliable” and possibly trying to spread Covid-19 to other countries.

Khameini tweeted on Friday: “It is forbidden to import vaccines made in the US or the UK”, accompanied by the hashtag #CoronaVaccine.

Twitter deleted the tweet and posted a message that it had violated the platform’s rules against misinformation.

Khamenei’s edict bans imports of BioNTech / Pfizer, Modern and AstraZeneca / Oxford anti-Covid-19 jabs.

In response to the Supreme Leader’s move, World Health Organization emergency director Michael Ryan stressed that the world body had made repeated calls not to “politicize this virus”.

Escalating tensions with the United States

Iran has reported more than 1.2 million cases of the new coronavirus, which has caused more than 56,000 deaths.

It has accused arch-enemy the United States of blocking its access to vaccines through a tough sanctions regime.

While food and medicine are technically excluded from the measures, international banks tend to reject transactions involving Iran.

Rouhani said last month that Washington had demanded that Tehran pay for the drugs through US banks, adding that he had feared the United States would seize the money.

The pandemic came in the wake of months of escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington, after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 treaty on Iran’s nuclear program and reintroduced stifling sanctions.

In March last year, Khamenei rejected an offer from Trump to help with the pandemic, saying he did not trust the intentions of the United States, Iran’s “most vicious” enemy.

Last month, Iran launched clinical trials of its own Covid-19 vaccine developed in the Islamic Republic, the country in the Middle East hardest hit by the pandemic.

The Iranian Red Crescent said on Friday that US-based Iranian researchers had planned to send 150,000 doses of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine to Iran, but that delivery had been suspended following Khamenei’s comments.

“One million doses of the vaccine were thought to have been delivered to the Red Crescent” via a third country, according to a statement widely reported in the local media.

Khamenei claimed in a television address on Friday that “if the Americans could produce” a reliable vaccine “the coronavirus disaster would not have happened in their country”.

Khamenei also tweeted that “given our experience of France’s HIV-infected blood supply, French vaccines are not reliable either”.

It was a reference to a scandal in the 1980s in which HIV-infected blood was distributed in France and later abroad, even after the government became aware of the problem.

Hundreds of people in Iran were among those infected.

The then French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius was charged with murder but acquitted in 1999, while his health minister was convicted but never punished.

( Jowharwith AFP, REUTERS)