Iran started its COVID-19 vaccination campaign in February, but the vaccination process has been slower than in most parts of the world.
While the biggest mass vaccination campaign in the history of the world has administered more than 2.12 billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine across 176 countries, in Iran, only 4.5 million doses have been given so far, covering about 2.7% of the population.
Iran’s vaccine rollout for its 80-million-plus population started with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
The available COVID-19 vaccines in Iran are all made abroad. Iran-made vaccines will soon be available.
The Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education has so far approved four foreign-made vaccines for emergency use. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine, the British AstraZeneca vaccine (produced in South Korea), the Indian Covaxin vaccine, and the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine are four vaccines approved for emergency use by Iranian health officials.
Sputnik V’s efficacy is approximately 91%. It is administered in two doses, three weeks apart, and can be stored in a normal freezer. The vaccine has received emergency use permits from 68 countries, including Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Argentina, Egypt, the UAE, and Turkey.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, also known as Vaxzevria AZD1222 and Covishield, is 76% effective. The vaccine should be injected in two doses and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months. The vaccine is approved in Brazil and received approval for emergency use in 99 countries. Many people in the UK who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 have received this vaccine.
Apart from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, Egypt, Canada, Brazil, and Iceland have approved emergency use of this vaccine.
Made in Iran
Iran is developing several COVID-19 vaccines. Currently, both public and private pharmaceuticals, armed forces, or research institutes in Iran are working on creating local vaccines. Iranian-made vaccines are not approved yet, but three vaccines are getting closer to approval.
In an interview with Zamaneh, Dr. Hassan Nayeb Hashem, a physician and a human rights activist in Vienna, talked about the process of vaccine development in Iran:
“Several vaccines are currently being developed, two of which are joint projects with Cuba and Australia, and the rest are made in Iran.”
According to Dr. Nayeb Hashem, various methods are used to make Iranian vaccines, including inactivated coronavirus and coronavirus spike proteins.
The Razi vaccine, which Iran calls as Cov-Pars Razi, was developed by the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute. The vaccine has not yet been approved and is now in the second phase of trials. The vaccine contains coronavirus spike proteins and is administered in three doses: two injections and one nasal spray.
The Barekat vaccine, known as COVIran Barekat, is made by Shafa Pharmed Pars. The vaccine is made of inactivated coronavirus and has not yet been approved. Barekat is now in Phase 3 of trials.
The Fakhra, known as Fakhravac, is also made of inactivated coronavirus. The Iranian Ministry of Defense is developing Fakhra. It is named after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian nuclear scientist who was assassinated last year. The vaccine has not yet been approved, and the second phase of testing has just begun.
According to Dr. Nayeb Hashem, two Iranian vaccines have now entered a phase where they are likely to be widely distributed. The other experimental vaccines are still under development or in various experimental phases.
“Currently, the stockpile of foreign vaccines will be enough for less than two weeks; very soon, Iranian vaccines will probably be distributed,” said Dr. Nayeb Hashem.
There are still many questions about Iranian vaccines, their efficacy, and their safety.
“No scientific article about Iranian vaccines has been published in reputable medical journals so far, and there is a concern that the effectiveness of these vaccines may be low,” he added.
According to Dr. Nayeb Hashem, Iran has sent the results of the first and second phases of the clinical trials to the World Health Organization, but this does not necessarily mean that the organization has approved the products.
Foreign Vaccines Undergoing Trials
Among the vaccines undergoing trials in Iran, two vaccines are joint projects with Cuba and Australia.
The Cuban vaccine Soberana 2 began being administered to trial participants in Iran on April 26. The vaccine is based on a recombinant protein that contains a part of the coronavirus spike protein. The first three phases of the trials have been conducted in Cuba. Soberana 2 is expected to complete the final phase of trials soon. Although the vaccine has not yet been approved, the Cuban government began rolling out Soberana 2 in May. The Cuban government plans to produce 100 million doses of Soberana 2 so as to protect the entire Cuban population.
The Australian vaccine combines viral proteins with an adjuvant that stimulates the immune system. Phase 1 trials are complete with promising results. Phase 2 and phase 3 trials will be launched in Iran. If the results are satisfactory, this vaccine will be produced in Iran by the Iranian company CinnaGen.
Infrastructure for Developing Vaccines
Iran has a century of experience with vaccine production and was the first vaccine producer in Asia. The Pasteur Institute of Iran was formed in 1920 and the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute was established in 1924.
Zamaneh asked Dr. Nayeb Hashem if Iran has the necessary infrastructure for developing a coronavirus vaccine.
“It depends on the type of vaccine. Some vaccines require new technologies, which we could be skeptical about. But for those [vaccines] based on inactivated coronavirus, Iran has a 100-year history of vaccine production and infrastructure. However, in the last 42 years, and also due to sanctions, much of this infrastructure has not been updated.”
According to Dr. Nayeb Hashem, prominent physicians and specialists are working on developing vaccines inside Iran. There will, however, continue to be concerns until the safety and efficacy of the vaccines are confirmed by international authorities.
According to scientists, if between 70% and 85% of society are vaccinated, the community can return to normal.
Since the coronavirus outbreak in December 2019, more than 173 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide, resulting in nearly 3.7 million victims. According to official Iranian government statistics, more than 3 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Iran, and at least 81,000 people have died from the virus.