British Embassy Confirms Iran Buying Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine Despite Ban
The British Embassy in Tehran on Friday [February 5, late Thursday local time] confirmed Iran had bought 4.2 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine through the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Covid-19 Vaccine program, Covax.
This followed Saeed Namaki, Iran’s health minister saying on Wednesday that AstraZeneca would deliver 4.2 million doses of vaccines to Iran through Covax. While health officials have said that Iran has purchased 16 million Covid vaccines doses through Covax but have not offered details about the type of vaccines and quantities.
Making its announcement through its Twitter account, the British embassy said the United Kingdom had donated £548 million to Covax, and stressed that all vaccines approved in Britain had undergone comprehensive independent testing to ensure conformity with high international standards.
But in a tweet later on Friday, Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador in London, denied there were plans to buy vaccines from Britain. He said Iranian health authorities had taken steps to procure the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia and others through the Covax program “alongside the simultaneous work on homegrown vaccines.”
The two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine has been developed jointly by Oxford University and the multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, whose headquarters are in Cambridge, England. Any plans for Iran to access the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine appeared stymied in early January when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned American and British-made vaccines on the grounds they might be unreliable or being tested on other countries. Since then, officials have sidestepped the issue.
Most Iranian officials, including the health minister, make no mention of the company’s British affiliations or Oxford University’s involvement. As the company was founded in 1999 through the merger of the British Zeneca group and Sweden’s Astra AB, officials often refer to the vaccine as Swedish. Secondly, they insist they are importing the vaccine through Covax or from other countries such as India where Serum Institute is mass-producing it.
Hardliners extolling self-sufficiency have claimed imported vaccines could be used as a biological weapon. “How can one trust them in such circumstances?” asked Brigadier-General Mohammadreza Naghdi on January 1, advising Revolutionary Guards to wait until a homegrown vaccine was available.
President Hassan Rouhani last Saturday promised Iranians that vaccination would start soon. Rouhani has criticized politicization of the issue, arguing on December 30 that “arguing over whether it’s better to import the vaccine or produce it is like arguing over whether our weapons should be made domestically or imported at the time of war.”
Official numbers have recorded over 1.45 million Covid infections in Iran with over 58,000 deaths, a mortality rate of 4.5 percent, above a world average of 2.9 percent.
Covax – which is run by a coalition including the WHO and the public-private global health partnership, Vaccine Alliance (known as Gavi) – is funded by donations from governments, multilateral institutions and foundations.