“The distribution of the flu vaccine has started,” read the headlines of a number of media outlets in Iran on Thursday, September 24, quoting the health ministry’s director of public relations Kianoush Jahanpour. “Distribution of the vaccine has started, giving priority to high-risk groups, but some supplies of vaccines will arrive later due to sanctions and currency allocation problems,” he said, speaking on behalf of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration.
Prior to this, health ministry officials had promised that more than 10 million doses of flu vaccine would be available in the waning days of summer but, three days into autumn, less than 1.5 million doses are available and then only for high-risk groups such as pregnant women, the elderly and those with serious ailments.
According to Jahanpour, other people must wait for subsequent shipments that have yet to be purchased because the hard currency funds to pay for the vaccines have been blocked in a bank in Turkey. Considering that the best time for flu vaccination is before the start of the cold season and the government is facing a severe shortage of the vaccine, the emergence of a black market seems likely.
“The possibility of a black market for the flu vaccine or any other vaccine always exists,” said Mohammad Reza Abolfathi, a pharmacologist, on September 21. “The higher the demand for this vaccine, the higher the likelihood of a black market. Under these conditions, only tighter controls can weaken the black market. The vaccine will be sold for around 42,000 thousand tomans [$10] per dose but the possibility exists that smugglers will smuggle them to neighboring countries to sell them at higher prices.”
On September 24, the photograph of an invoice was posted on various social media social media platforms. “1,500 doses of the vaccine were delivered to parliament,” the invoice read.
While government officials advertise their plan to give priority to high-risk groups, this invoice makes it known that the parliament’s clinic has received 1,500 doses of flu vaccine at $10 per dose. Considering that the parliament has only 290 members, people on social media are speculating that the vaccine is probably for their families as well.
This is not the first time that the lives of high-level officials have been given priority. On September 13, the president of Tehran University of Medical University complained that President Rouhani reopened universities remotely instead of in person.
In response, health minister Saeed Namaki said, “in the time of coronavirus, our pressure to comply with health protocols, especially to protect top officials, was the reason why the ceremony [to reopen universities] was held in this way. I am grateful that the exalted Supreme Leader and heads of the branches of government, especially the president, take our advice for complying with health protocols seriously.”
On Thursday, September 24, Health Minister Saeed Namaki instructed his ministry to preorder a coronavirus vaccine from COVAX, an alliance of the World Health Organization (WHO), governments and the private sector, to manage and speed up the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Speaking for the Food and Drug Administration, Kianoush Jahanpour announced: “The next step after signing and sending the agreement is to procure the prepayment by October 9 and we expect the Central Bank to arrange it. In addition, following the instructions by the health minister to use our currency resources in certain Asian countries, many negotiations between the foreign ministry and its foreign counterparts are on the agenda.”
Previously, the health minister had reported that Iran had preordered 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccine from an Indian company owned by a Zoroastrian of Iranian origin. However, over the last few days no health ministry official has commented on the statement.
Reports from provinces indicate a deepening coronavirus crisis across the country.
Fatemeh Noroozian, Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences’ director of public relations, asked people not to go to pharmacies to buy a flu vaccine because the distribution of the vaccine has yet to start. She also reported that 190 Covid-19 patients were currently hospitalized across the province. Out of this number, 49 are in ICU wards and 11 are in a critical condition.
Over the last two weeks the number of hospitalized patients in Kermanshah province has increased 2.5 times, reported Dr. Mahmoud Reza Moradi, the president of Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences. He said there had been 150 patients in the hospitals, but that number had risen to 381 and 60 of those patients were in ICUs. According to Dr. Moradi, the treatment of each coronavirus patient costs around 20 million tomans, close to $4,800.
It was reported that Taleghani Hospital in Urmia, the capital of West Azerbaijan province, is filled to capacity and new patients are waiting for beds in the emergency ward. “We have allocated another ward at Imam Khomeini Hospital in Urmia to coronavirus patients so that we can use the available capacity,” said Ebrahim Hosseini, vice president of West Azerbaijan University of Medical Sciences. “We are in a critical situation and other hospitals in the city...will join us.”
In her daily briefing for September 24, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:
Dr. Lari also reported that out of the 31 Iranian provinces, currently 24 provinces are in a red state of alert and five provinces are in an orange state.
This is part of IranWire's coronavirus chronology. Read the full chronology