Vast quantities of Iran’s domestically-made Covid-19 vaccine were thrown away because of contamination, probably with live coronavirus, a source has told IranWire.

CovIran-Barekat was developed last year by Setad, a massive parastatal holdings company under the control of the Iranian Supreme Leader. It received an emergency permit for use in Iran earlier this year despite a lack of published data around its efficacy, and is being produced by state-owned firm Shifa Pharmed.  

In early July 2021, a spokesman for Setad reported that some 1.2 million doses had been “lost”. The firm later blamed the loss on potential spillage at Shifa’s manufacturing plant, stating: “Given that this is a new production line, it is quite plausible that there will be problems in filling the vials; a batch of 1.2 million doses could get spoiled.”

But this week an informed source told IranWire that in fact, it was Setad that jettisoned the vaccines. “At first the reason [publicly] given was mistakes made in vialing, which, by itself, is a disaster,” they said.

“But what really paralyzed the project, and deprived the Health Ministry of the doses it had been promised, was the tests Shifa Pharmed conducted on the vaccines.

“This has not been publicly disclosed, and we can rest assured it will not be. But there’s a strong possibility that they found live viruses in the vaccines.”

Unlike other Covid-19 vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna, which use new mRNA technology, CovIran-Barekat is a traditional vaccine that uses a dead or deactivated form of the virus to trigger an immune response.  the very beginning, Shifafarmed’s method has been to use dead or deactivated viruses to make the vaccine.

“Importantly,” IranWire’s source said, “a number of people who were injected with Barekat showed severe [Covid-19] symptoms – more like those caused by the live virus. Some others showed light symptoms. We’re talking about coronavirus infections here, not vaccine side-effects.

“This, of course, doesn’t mean the whole product is useless. It applies only to that portion that was thrown away.”

Conflicting Lines on CovIran-Barekat Production

On Wednesday, August 4, Alireza Vahabzadeh, an advisor to outgoing Health Minister Saeed Namaki, said that as of now five million doses of CovIran-Barekat vaccine had been made up and 1.8 delivered to the Health Ministry.

But the remarks fell just one day after, Mohammad Hossein Fallah Mehrabadi, vice president of Iran’s Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute, had said: “So far less than a million doses has been made domestically.”

For nine months now, Iranian officials have issued contradictory statements about the state of Iran’s domestic vaccine drive. On July 29, Minoo Mohraz, supervisor of the CovIran-Barekat research team, said that starting on July 30, production would reach several million doses per week.

This does not appear to have happened. In the meantime, the production of CovIran-Barekat has clearly been hampered by serious issues. For the time being CovIran-Barekat is being produced by Shifa Pharmed at just one facility. On August 1, Setad president Mohammad Mokhber said the groundwork had been laid for a second production line to get up and running by August 9.

Meanwhile Kianoush Jahanpour, spokesman for Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, said that 861,372 doses of the Barekat vaccine had been administered to Iranians as of Wednesday, August 4.

Iranians Having to Make Do With Sinopharm

With record numbers of new Covid-19 cases being reported every day, officials are no longer shying away from acknowledging the dire situation in Iranian hospitals. Shortages of beds are being compounded by a lack of IV fluids to support the sickest patients.

Iranian state media has described this latest phase of the pandemic as “explosive” while health officials believe the fifth “peak” of infections is a while away yet. The official daily number of Covid-19 fatalities reached 434 at noon on Thursday, August 6, but this only covers those people who managed to take a coronavirus test. Of the around 260,000 tests being conducted each day, around 40,000 have come back positive, putting Iran among the current worst-afflicted countries.

On July 30, Iran also received a second shipment of 1,098,300 AstraZeneca vaccines from Japan, which were secured through Covax: the global facility launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) aiming to provide equitable access to vaccines worldwide. Iran previously received close to two million doses from Japan on July 23.

This has sped up the inoculation drive somewhat, with 500,000 jabs now being administered But it has also added to the confusion for Iranians waiting for their first or second dose.

“They texted my mum and told her to go to a vaccination center in east Tehran,” a Tehran resident told IranWire. “When we got there, we found out they only had the Barekat vaccine. We refused and went to the Iran Mall shopping center, which is bigger. I wanted her to have AstraZeneca. But in Iran Mall, they said they only had [Chinese-made vaccine] Sinopharm.”

A resident of Rasht, the capital of Gilan Province, had a similar story to tell on trying to secure a dose for his father. “We’re on the fifth day of this week. For two days of it, there were no vaccines left in Rasht. On the other days, the clinics we went to said they only had the Barekat vaccine. After a few days of going back and forth, we found out we could get vaccinated in other, nearby cities as well. So I took my father to Someh Sara, an hour from Rasht, and he got Sinopharm.”

According to the Health Ministry, as of Thursday, August 5, Iran had acknowledged delivery of 13 separate shipments of foreign-made vaccine, comprising 12.63 million doses. The total number of vaccine doses administered to Iranians up to the time of writing was 14,438,861.

Official Coronavirus Statistics

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 2,554 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending August 5: an increase of 543 over the preceding week. With 434 deaths, August 5, the last day, had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.

At the week’s end, 6,170 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing 2,933,866 Iranians had received both doses of vaccine.

There are currently 285 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 110 are rated orange and 53 are yellow. No city in Iran is currently on “blue” alert.

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