Tehran, Iran – President Hassan Rouhani has defended his administration’s efforts to purchase a COVID-19 vaccine, reassuring Iranians that the country will succeed despite United States pressure.
Iran has reported more than one million coronavirus cases, including at least 54,000 deaths, since February.
“Our people should know we have problems but these problems won’t block our efforts. Something might end up more expensive, something might be done with delay, but it will be done,” Rouhani said on Saturday, adding that “anti-Iran” media was also trying to portray his administration’s vaccine efforts in a negative light.
“Not only in vaccines, medicine and foodstuffs, you will not find an instance where we want to purchase something from outside the country and we don’t see the effects of the US’s cruelty and knavery,” he said, referring to what Iran has identified as “economic terrorism” by the US.
Rouhani said Iran wanted to purchase vaccines through the global COVAX initiative using its central bank’s funds in South Korea and received a permit from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control after extensive efforts.
However, the US Treasury demanded the funds must first be transferred to an American bank before they could be transferred to Switzerland to make the purchase.
“Wherever you found our money, you stole it. You are famed for stealing. How could we trust thieves?” Rouhani said.
In an interview on Friday, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran, Abdolnaser Hemmati, said Iran decided against using its $7bn in South Korea for fear of confiscation by the US.
The US has confiscated or frozen billions of dollars of Iranian money held abroad in different countries through legal action.
The funds have mostly been used to compensate families of victims of bombings that the US claims Iran orchestrated.
Hemmati added the US approved the transfer of money to a Swiss bank to pay for the vaccines but did not specify where the amount was being transferred from.
He said Iran would pay 200 million euros ($246m) for initial imports of 16.8 million doses of vaccines from COVAX, but is ready to pay more when needed.
The discussion around coronavirus vaccines has continued in Iran with people taking to social media in recent days to demand the purchase.
The Farsi hashtag #BuyVaccines has shot to the top of Farsi trends on Twitter several times in the past two weeks.
“#BuyVaccines. My mother has Alzheimer’s. She thinks if nobody goes to visit her they don’t love her,” one user tweeted.
“This is neither a security nor a political issue. Report to us how many vaccines from which country do you wish to buy?” Shiraz city council representative Mehdi Hajati said in a tweet last week.
On Saturday, head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society Karim Hemmati said Iran was trying to buy a vaccine from China.
“All vaccines and medicine that are imported into the country are subject to strict controls by the Food and Drug Administration,” he said.
Efforts to produce a local vaccine are also taking place in Iran.
Last week, the Ministry of Health published a public call for volunteers to test a locally manufactured vaccine that has successfully concluded animal trials.
More than 27,000 Iranians have so far volunteered for the trial, an official announced on Friday.