Tehran, Iran – Iran is due to start testing a domestically produced coronavirus vaccine on human subjects as the country continues to face difficulties in importing sufficient quantities of vaccines due to US sanctions.
The only Iranian-made vaccine to clear animal trials so far, produced by Shifa Pharmed, aims to complete limited tests on 56 volunteers in its initial stage. The tests are expected to last a month, health officials said.
More than 60,000 people signed up for the trials since a call for volunteers was issued by the health ministry last week.
On Monday, a health ministry official said seven other Iranian vaccines are expected to clear animal trials by late February.
“We have a history of manufacturing vaccines at the medical institutes,” Minister of Health Saeed Namaki said on Sunday. “We will prove … that our local vaccine will be superior to many vaccines manufactured around the world.”
Iran has managed to bring its daily COVID-19 fatalities to below 120 this week after more than three months by enforcing partial shutdowns, night-time curfews and continued a ban on intra-city travel.
With close to 55,000 deaths and 1.2 million infections, Iran has been the hardest-hit country in the Middle East.
The governor of the Central Bank of Iran announced on Friday that Iran reached an agreement to pay for 16.8 million doses of vaccines from COVAX, a global initiative under the World Health Organization (WHO) that aims to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries.
A day later, however, President Hassan Rouhani said the administration of the outgoing US President Donald Trump continues to create roadblocks for Iran and and expressed fear the money could be seized.
After unilaterally reneging on a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers with Iran in 2018, the Trump administration embarked on a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions on Iran.
Earlier this month, Iran’s Medical Council sent a letter to the WHO, urging the organisation to take measures against US sanctions that have prevented Iran from purchasing coronavirus vaccines.
On Monday, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Karim Hemmati, said Iran is trying to buy one million doses of a vaccine from China that are expected to arrive within a month.
He also said philanthropists have succeeded in securing 150,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which will arrive soon. No details of the philanthropists were provided.