Iran begins trial of new homegrown vaccine as campaign delayed


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s campaign to inoculate its population against the coronavirus and promote itself as an emerging vaccine manufacturer progressed slowly as health authorities announced Tuesday that the country’s third local vaccine has reached phase of clinical trials.

Details about its production, however, remained scant.

Although Iran, with a population of more than 80 million, has so far imported foreign vaccines from Russia, China, India and Cuba to cover more than 1.2 million people, concerns about the delay in the rate of vaccinations have encouraged Iran’s push to develop locally produced vaccines as the wealthiest nations account for most of the vaccine doses worldwide.

Iranian scientists, like in other parts of the world, are rushing to condense the years-long process of developing vaccines into a few months, a task that has gained urgency as the country struggles to stop the worst virus outbreak in the world. The Middle East and its economy are reeling. tough US sanctions.

But details about the Islamic Republic’s vaccine production efforts are scant. Two other Iranian vaccines are also in the clinical trial phase, and the most advanced, called Barekat, has been tested in 300 people so far.

The government said 20,000 volunteers in the capital Tehran and other cities will soon receive Iran’s new vaccine, called Fakhra, which an official described to state media as “100% safe,” without providing any evidence or data to support the claim. . . Earlier this week, the government inaugurated a vaccine production factory that it claims can produce 3 million doses a day.

The vaccine unveiled on state television on Tuesday was created by a subsidiary of Iran’s Defense Ministry, known as the Research and Innovation Organization.

As with the Barekat vaccine still in the initial phase of clinical trials, the company used inactivated coronaviruses from 35,000 samples to make the new vaccine, a traditional technology based on growing batches of the virus and then killing it. By comparison, Western drug makers are taking a new gene-based approach to targeting spikes in the coronavirus’s external structure, a method that has never before been approved for widespread use.

Iran’s fragmented approach to domestic vaccine production, with entities ranging from state pharmaceutical conglomerates to the Defense Ministry working separately on at least six different vaccines, reflects the country’s broader factional rivalries and power structures. in competition.

In a ceremony attended by senior officials in Tehran on Tuesday, Iranian state television broadcast images of a single volunteer who received the Fakhra vaccine, named after Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed in an attack in November. that Iran blamed Israel..

While Fakhrizadeh was known to lead the country’s dissolved nuclear weapons program in the early 2000s, Iran has praised him as the leader of the national coronavirus vaccine development campaign. Fakhrizadeh’s son was the first to get the shot from the new vaccine.

The coronavirus has infected more than 1.7 million people in Iran and killed 61,427, according to Health Ministry figures released Tuesday, the highest death toll in the Middle East.

Iran formally launched its limited vaccination campaign last month, distributing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. health workers and people with chronic diseases. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has banned Iran from importing American and British vaccines, a reflection of their deep distrust of the West.

However, Iran later said it would receive 4.2 million doses of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and UK-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca through the global COVAX initiative, which was created to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to vaccines.

The Health Ministry has pledged to vaccinate every adult in the country by the end of September, although how the government will achieve that ambitious goal remains uncertain. Iran says it hopes to import doses of COVAX for more than 16 million people.

The government has alleged that tough US sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump in 2018 undermine efforts to buy foreign-made vaccines and launch mass inoculation campaigns like those advancing in the US and Europe. Although banks and international financial institutions are often hesitant to deal with Iranian transactions for fear of being fined or excluded from the US market, US sanctions have specific exceptions for drugs and humanitarian aid to Iran.

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Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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