As of Thursday, September 30, close to 55 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been administered in Iran. The government now promises that by mid-November 2021, some 70 percent of Iranians will be fully vaccinated – despite the fact that the focus recently switched to vaccinating children, and larger groups of “anti-vaxxers” are now gaining momentum in Iran.
The latter have been protesting anew because, since the pace of vaccination in Iran picked up, the Health Ministry has been promoting the idea of a “smart quarantine”. As Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi explained this week, this will see the reopening of public spaces only apply to those who have been vaccinated. Vahidi said that he hoped that by lifting the restrictions, life and business could resume, alleviating Iran’s economic problems.
The project that has been approved by the National Coronavirus Taskforce and is due to be implemented by mid-October. It will begin in Qazvin province on a trial basis, and then be rolled out across the rest of the country if successful.
Mostafa Ghanei, a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce and secretary of the Presidential Biotechnology Development Council, has said a new IT system has been created to oversee the program by tracking movements in, out and through the country.
The Health Ministry has further announced that vaccinated people can go to a newly-created government website to receive, at no cost, a “digital vaccination certificate” in Persian or in English. The English version can be used for traveling outside Iran.
Health Minister Bahram Einollahi added: “Whoever gets vaccinated can apply to the Health Ministry to get a QR code [barcode] that will allow them to do many things. Also in Mashhad, going to hotels, pilgrimages to the holy shrine of Imam Reza and air travel will be allowed within the framework of smart quarantine.” He added that once the program is implemented and more people have had the jab, “social distancing on public transport – including planes – will be lifted.”
Widespread Resistance to "Smart Quarantine" Program
Dr. Hamid Soori, a professor of epidemiology at Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, has said that a total quarantine of the country would cost Iran’s economy seven trillion tomans, or close to $1.68 billion.
But news of the “smart quarantine” project has nevertheless been divisive. Among its critics are Iranian anti-vaxxers, who have taken to social media to announce their opposition to “smart quarantine”, which they say is to force people to get vaccinated. Using the hashtags “No to Smart Quarantine” and “No to Forced Vaccination”, they called on the Health Ministry to put a stop to the project.
But opposition to the program is much more widespread than that. In a letter to the Health Minister, Dr. Alireza Marandi, Ayatollah Khamenei’s personal physician and the president of the Iranian Academy of Medical Sciences, criticized Einollahi, writing that he must not “oversimplify” matters by promising “a celebration after the victory of vaccination” that would only lead to future disillusionment.
Dr. Marandi also pointed out that even countries where 80 percent of the population has received two Covid-19 jabs “still continue [to impose] restrictions such as closing their borders and a two-week quarantine for those who enter the country.” Promising unrestricted travel after 70 percent of the population is protected, he said, would encourage negligence and fresh waves of coronavirus infections.
In response to the letter, the Health Ministry’s PR department said that what Einollahi had meant was a “celebration for speeding up vaccination”, not a celebration to mark the end of coronavirus.
Pfizer Rollout in Iran “Canceled” Again
Back when Ayatollah Khamenei banned importing American and British-made Covid-19 vaccines, both Alireza Marandi and Bahram Einollahi were among those who supported the Supreme Leader’s order.
Since Ebrahim Raisi became president, however, the executive’s tune seems to have changed. On September 23, Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi announced that the National Coronavirus Taskforce had agreed to import the Pfizer vaccine. Iran, he said, “has placed an order for 2.4 million doses of Pfizer, and the purchase of five million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been finalized as well.”
The plan was to procure the new batch of vaccines from Belgium. “These vaccines will be used to inoculate pregnant women and, if the imported doses are sufficient, as booster shots for health workers,” he said.
But then, on September 28, Health Ministry announced that the plan to import the Pfizer vaccine had been “canceled” and the National Coronavirus Taskforce had instead concluded that the inoculation of pregnant women could continue with Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine.
In a report on September 30, the newspaper Hamshahri, which is published by Tehran Municipality, listed the reasons for the cancellation. They included the high cost, what was referred to as “transportation problems”, “opposition from the National Vaccination Council” and “controversy after it was announced that Pfizer would be imported.”
The controversy referred to here was probably that provoked by Fars News Agency, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards. After the Health Ministry’s announcement, an article in Fars demanded to know: “Why must our pregnant women be injected with the Pfizer vaccine? Has this vaccine been tested on pregnant women and expectant mothers in other countries, or is Iran one of the first where future mothers are put in harm’s way?”
Fars has also previously thrown its weight behind the anti-vaxxers’ protests. It seems to be having an impact: according to the latest statistics, more than 14 percent of Iranian adults are still reluctant to get vaccinated.
Official Coronavirus Statistics
The fifth surge of coronavirus might have slowed down across Iran, but the three western provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan and Kermanshah are still struggling to contain new infections. Currently, 16 cities in Iran are on red alert for transmission, all of which are located in these three province.
The latest official figures from the Health Ministry state that by September 30, a little over 120,000 Iranians had died from Covid-19. But statistics published by Iran’s National Organization for Civil Registration indicate that from winter 2019 to summer 2021, the number of “excess deaths” in Iran – the number of deaths above the expected norm for a given period – stood at 257,000. Not all of these deaths will be attributable to Covid-19, but many of them will be.
The Health Ministry’s weekly statistics state that a total of 1,920 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending September 30. With 289 deaths, September 27 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.
At the week’s end, 5,093 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing the total number of vaccine doses injected, both first and second shots, had reached 54,981,441.
There are currently 16 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 198 are rated orange and 176 are yellow. Currently 58 cities in Iran are on “blue” alert.