Iran has approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and plans to both import it and produce it, giving the Middle East’s worst-hit country a tool to fight the spread of COVID-19, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said.
“The Sputnik V vaccine was yesterday also registered and approved by our health authorities,” Zarif said at a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow on Tuesday.
“In the near future, we hope to be able to purchase it, as well as start joint production.”
Tehran had earlier said it would wait for the World Health Organization’s approval of Russia’s jab before buying it.
Iran has also said it will only rely on vaccines made by Russia, India or China, while also working to produce a homemade shot.
Earlier this month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, banned the government from importing vaccines from the United States and United Kingdom, which he said, without evidence, were possibly seeking to spread the infection to other countries.
Twitter removed a post from Khamenei’s account that claimed vaccines from the US and UK were “completely untrustworthy”, saying that the post violated the platform’s rules against misinformation.
Russia registered the shot – named after the Soviet-era satellite – in August last year, before the start of large-scale clinical trials, leaving some experts wary.
Sputnik V’s developers have since said the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective and several countries outside of Russia have begun administering it, including Argentina.
Russia last week filed for registration of Sputnik V in the European Union, while EU member Hungary broke ranks and purchased two million doses of the jab before the bloc had approved it.
Message to Biden
Meanwhile, an Iranian government spokesman urged new US President Joe Biden to lift sanctions that it said were hampering Tehran’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since [Biden’s] administration claims not to be anti-science like the previous one … one expects it to free the transfer of Iran’s own foreign exchange resources to fight the coronavirus and for health and food, and lift banking sanctions quickly,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on state television.
Sanctions reimposed by former US President Donald Trump formally exempt food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies, but many foreign banks have been deterred from doing business with Iran.
Iran has recorded over 1.38 million coronavirus cases and 57,560 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak, according to government data on Tuesday, but there has been a decline in new infections in recent weeks.
Rabiei also threatened that Iran would block short-notice inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the United Nations atomic agency if the US did not lift sanctions.
In 2018, then-president Trump pulled the US out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact with world powers aimed at limiting its nuclear programme, and reimposed US sanctions that had been lifted under the pact.