In a televised speech on Friday, January 8, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned American and British coronavirus vaccines from Iran and claimed:“They wish to test a vaccine on other nations to see if it works or not.”
“I have said this to the officials, and I am now announcing this publicly,” he said. “If the Americans had been able to produce a vaccine, this coronavirus disaster would not have occurred in their own country. A few days ago, there were 4,000 deaths in their country in one day. If they know how to make a vaccine, and if their Pfizer factory knows how to produce one, they can use it for themselves so that there won’t be so many deaths there. The same is true of England. They are not trustworthy or reliable. I don’t know, perhaps they wish to test a vaccine on other nations to see if it works or not. And of course, I do not trust the French either. The reason is their history in giving us contaminated blood [in the 1980s, France supplied blood to several countries, including Iran, that later turned out to be infected with HIV].”
So are the Americans and the British really testing their vaccines on the people of other countries to evaluate their effectiveness? Is there any evidence to support this claim? IranWire tries to answer these questions by fact-checking Khamenei’s claim.
“American” and “British” Only?
When Khamenei refers to American and British vaccines, he probably means the products of three American and British pharmaceutical companies that the two countries, along with many others, have started to use to vaccinate their own people against Covid-19. They include:
-The vaccine made by the American company Pfizer in cooperation with the German company BioNTech
-The vaccine produced by the American company Moderna
-The vaccine made by AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company in cooperation with the University of Oxford.
Up to now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has only given its approval to the Pfizer vaccine, but, in addition to the three vaccines mentioned above, other products to fight coronavirus have been produced in other countries and have received approval from a number of governments, including a version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine developed in cooperation with the Chinese company Fosun Pharma, the Chinese vaccine CoronaVac, also known by the name of its manufacturer Sinovac (using an inactivated virus), a Chinese vaccine, as yet unnamed, known by the name of its maker Sinopharm (using an inactivated virus), the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, the Chinese vaccine BBIBP-CorV (using an inactivated virus), the Russian vaccine EpiVacCorona and the Indian vaccine COVACCINE (using an inactivated virus).
Some of these vaccines have been approved by the governments where they have been produced and others are in the final phases of their clinical trial.
Removing the three American and British from the vaccine “shopping list” leaves only the Russian and Chinese alternatives.
Can Vaccination go Ahead Before a Vaccine is Approved?
According to the World Health Organization, vaccine producers around the world follow the standards of their own country’s food and drug administration, which is responsible for assuring the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. WHO defines the phases of vaccine development as follows:
An experimental vaccine is first tested on animals to evaluate its safety and its potential for preventing the disease. If successful, then the vaccine is tested in human clinical trials, in three phases:
In phase I, the vaccine is given to a small number of volunteers to assess its safety, confirm that it generates an immune response, and determine the right dosage.
In phase II, the vaccine is usually given to hundreds of volunteers, who are closely monitored for any side effects, to further assess its ability to generate an immune response.
In phase III, the vaccine is given to thousands of volunteers – some of whom receive the investigational vaccine, and some of whom do not, just as in phase II trials.
In the second and the third phases volunteers are closely monitored and the results are carefully analyzed and evaluated. No vaccine is used for general vaccination until these phases are complete and the results are satisfactory.
According to COVAX, a WHO initiative bringing together a group of governments and manufacturers to ensure Covid-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need, currently more than 154 vaccines are in the pre-clinical research phase, 20 are in phase 1 of human testing, 16 are in phase 2 of human testing, 13 are in phase 3 of human testing and only two vaccines have been approved and licensed for general use.
Are American and British Vaccines Being Human Tested in Other Countries?
It’s more than a month since Covid-19 vaccinations got underway and general vaccination is now being carried out in many countries. Britain was the first country to start vaccinating its people. According to the continuously updated data reported by the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), as of Saturday, January 9, more than 22 million doses of coronavirus vaccines had been distributed in the United States and more than 6.6 million people had received their first dose.
As of the morning of Friday, January 8, at least 47 countries had started Covid-19 vaccinations. Out of these, only five countries are using Chinese and Russian vaccines; the rest are using the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna vaccine is currently being used only in the US and Canada.
Does Khamenei’s Decision Have a Scientific Basis and is it Supported by Iran’s Own Health Ministry?
No. Prior to the Supreme Leader’s decision, the health ministry had officially set criteria for importing vaccines, and these do not support or match with the Supreme Leader’s claim. Kianoush Jahanpour, spokesman for the health ministry’s Food and Drug Administration, had announced the criteria as follows:
The vaccine must have been approved by international health organizations or by the food and drug administration of the country of origin.
The country of origin had to have started vaccinations using the vaccine.
Among the vaccines that are now being used for vaccinations, those made by the American pharmaceuticals Pfizer and Moderna are the most widely used across the world. Currently the Pfizer vaccine is considered to be the most reliable coronavirus vaccine in the world because it has been approved by the World Health Organization and the food and drug administrations of the United States, Britain, the European Union, Canada, Bahrain, Mexico, Singapore, Chile, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The Moderna vaccine has been approved by the US, Canada, Britain and the European Union.
Therefore, if Iran’s criteria for procuring vaccines from outside the country were the same of those of its health ministry, it should have concentrated its efforts on importing the Pfizer vaccine. But now, after the decree issued by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, only Russian and Chinese vaccines are allowed into Iran, vaccines that, besides the two countries that produce them, have been used only in Argentina, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Further evidence that contradicts Khamenei's claim comes in the form of the groups that have been first to receive the vaccine in various countries. According to guidelines issued by the World Health Organization, its COVAX alliance and the US health authorities, doctors, nurses and other health workers are given priority for Covid-19 vaccination. In other words, the American medical community, which should be the most cautious group when it comes to the quality and reliability of a vaccine, is currently being vaccinated. Up to now, close to seven million of these workers and members of their families have been injected with the first dose of the vaccine. This is a clear sign of the country’s trust in the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.
Does Khamenei Distrust the Producers of the Pfizer Vaccine?
The founders of BioNTech, the company that co-developed Pfizer’s vaccine, are a Muslim couple of Turkish descent. As it happens, Iran had previously celebrated Uğur Şahin, one of the founders, as a producer of the Pfizer-BioNTech. On November 11 the Iranian Student News Network reported that in 2019 the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states had awarded Uğur Şahin the third Mustafa Prize, a science and technology award granted to top researchers and scientists. Dr. Alireza Marandi, Khamenei’s medical advisor and his personal physician, was present at the award ceremonies.
In a televised speech on January 8, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned American and British coronavirus vaccines from Iran and claimed: “They wish to test a vaccine on other nations to see if it works or not”.
“If the Americans had been able to produce a vaccine, this coronavirus disaster would not have occurred in their own country,” he said. “A few days ago, there were 4,000 deaths in their country in one day. If they know how to make a vaccine, and if their Pfizer factory knows how to produce one, they can use it for themselves so that there won’t be so many deaths there. The same is true of England. They are not trustworthy or reliable.”
IranWire’s study of the evidence reveals that this claim has no basis in reality. In the 47 countries that have started Covid-19 vaccinations, the Pfizer vaccine has been the most widely used vaccine; only five countries — China, Russia, Argentina, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — have used Russian or Chinese vaccines. So far, the US has distributed 22 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines within the US and seven million people have been vaccinated. In other words, the number of doses being used within the US is higher than the doses of the same vaccines distributed to other countries.
What is more, the first phase of vaccinations is being used for the medical community and members of their families and this, in itself, shows that the American medical and scientific community trusts these vaccines.
Khamenei’s claim is not even supported by Iran’s own Food and Drug Administration, which had announced it would procure vaccines only if they were approved by international health organizations or by the food and drug administration of the country of origin, and only if the country of origin had started vaccinations using that vaccine. Based on this criteria, the Pfizer vaccine is the most trustworthy existing vaccine in the world.
Therefore, IranWire considers the claim by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that the US and the UK “are testing the coronavirus vaccine on other nations to see if it works or not” to be a "Pinocchio's lie”— a statement that has already been established or proven to be untrue based on existing research and evidence.
Read other articles in the series:
Fact Check: Iranian MP Promotes a Lie About Bill Gates and Vaccines, 13 December 2020
Khamenei Lies about American Biological Attack against Iran, 24 March 2020
IranWire Fact Check Methodology, 2 April 2020