DUBAI, Feb 9 (Reuters) – Iran launched a vaccination drive against COVID-19 on Tuesday, focussing initially on hospital intensive care personnel as the hardest-hit country in the Middle East awaits enough vaccines for its general population.
State television showed Parsa Namaki, son of Health Minister Saeed Namaki, receiving the first jab, in an apparent effort by officials to boost public confidence in Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Iran has received 10,000 of the 2 million doses of Sputnik V it has ordered and plans to vaccinate some 1.3 million people by March 20, the television said. The country also expects to receive more than 4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s shot.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has banned the health ministry from importing U.S.- and British-made vaccines, which he said were unreliable and may be used to spread the infection to other nations. Officials have refrained from referring to the Anglo-Swedish Astrazeneca’s British ties.
Iran is participating in the COVAX scheme, co-led by the World Health Organization, that aims to secure fair access to vaccines for poorer countries.
Iran has recorded nearly 1.5 million COVID-19 cases and 58,536 deaths, with the death toll of 67 on Monday standing at an eight-month low, according to health ministry data.
Tehran launched human trials of the first of its three domestic vaccine candidates in late December, saying this could help it defeat the pandemic despite U.S. sanctions.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by William Maclean)