Sunday , 5 December 2021

Iranian Covid-19 Vaccine Hubs Close as Shortages Bite

Iranwire – Both Iranian citizens and the media are – again – reporting widespread closures at health centers due to shortages of Covid-19 vaccines. But the Islamic Republic’s official figures imply the nationwide vaccination drive has sped up.

“Today, September 2, all the vaccination hubs in western Tehran were closed because they had no vaccines,” tweeted the journalist Zahra Arab. “People were desperate. They were wandering around and not knowing what to do.” Addressing Kianoush Jahanpour, spokesman for Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, she added: “At least announce that you have no vaccines, you heartless people. This is how you became a ‘world leader’?!”.

About an hour after Arab’s missive, and amid tens of other reports from across Iran about centers being closed, Nader Tavakoli, the deputy director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, claimed: “General vaccinations are currently progressing at a good speed.”

The Health Ministry’s official figures indicate that in the 24 hours ending at noon on September 2, 375,000 doses of vaccine were administered to people across Iran. The combined total for both August 31 and 560,000.

Despite this apparent increase across the board, the closure of health centers at the local level has provoked another wave of criticism of the Islamic Republic’s Covid-19 policies. Iran is now in the grip of a fifth wave, with the officially-recorded daily death toll reaching 610 on Sunday and 246 on red alert for coronavirus transmission.

Like many other countries, Iran began by vaccinating health workers before moving to those with high-risk jobs and the general population, staggered by age. But endless broken promises on such matters as the vaccination timetable, the long-awaited mass production of domestic vaccines and, of course, Ali Khamenei’s ban on importing American and British-made vaccines, while multiple different strains of coronavirus were able to flourish, has now meant the official death toll, likely an underestimate, now stands at 600 to 700 a day.

Job-Based vs. Age-Based Vaccine Scheduling

This summer the Iranian authorities announced that journalists, taxi and public transport drivers, drivers for the ridesharing company Tapsi and ride hailing company Snapp, teachers, university students and teachers, workers with the Irancell telecoms firm and Mobile Telecommunication of Iran (MCI), some government employees and seminary students aged over 18 would be among those in line for early vaccination.

But even for this – relatively small – cohort, there is evidently not enough vaccine available In Isfahan province, where a number of vaccination centers have also closed down, Snapp and Tapsi drivers were told not to come for their jab. Provincial officials in Isfahan said they had “zero” doses of AstraZeneca left and even teachers and bank staff were told not to attend unless they received a text message from the Health Ministry.

Mohammad Reza Raoufi, director of the medical center at Tarbiat Modarres University, reported that around 4,100 students, employees and faculty members had been vaccinated before they were ordered to stop making appointments. He assumes the reason behind this was vaccine supply shortages.

Kurdistan University of Medical Sciences also announced that because of the lack of supply, no vaccinations would be carried out on September 4 and 5. And Yazd University of Medical Sciences declared that all vaccination centers in the city of Yazd would close on the afternoon of September 2 and remain closed on September 3.

The vaccination process in Tehran has also been beset by problems. On September 2 Iran Mall Vaccination Center, one of biggest and well-run hubs in the country, announced it would be closed until further notice.

President Raisi is understood to have learned about the closures of vaccination centers on September 2. Without directly addressing the issue, he stated that in order to avoid “disruptions” in the vaccination process it would be necessary to “justly” distribute the vaccine based on “established priorities”. The “disruptions” Raisi had belatedly been informed of were evident in the signs pasted to the doors of medical hubs across the country: “This center has no vaccines until further notice.”

Lack of Trust and Vaccine Hesitancy

A doctor in Iran, who asked not to be named, told IranWire they believed the chaotic switch between priority groups for Covid-19 vaccines had contributed to the current shortages. “Why has it stopped? Ask the officials. A few months from now, one of them will reveal the reason. But in the meantime what are we to do? Curse those who changed the priorities?

“General vaccination has now stopped but job-based vaccinations continue. For example, people employed by state-run radio and TV, artists, and even Irancell are still being vaccinated. There’s a shortage of vaccine but, very unjustly, those who have greater lobbying power are getting what’s available.”

A number of people aged over 50 were vaccinated in Iran before the Health Ministry made the switch to a job-based system. Meanwhile, the doctor said, “lest we forget, according to the official figures, 25 percent of those who were invited refused their vaccine. In reality we think it’s more like 40. Vaccine hesitancy has spread in Iran because people don’t trust the quality of the vials’ contents, as a result of the lack of transparency on imports, and the unknown results of domestic clinical trials for CovIran-Barekat.”

Others who expected to be inoculated early are now growing frustrated. “They said teachers have priority, all that stuff,” a teacher told IranWire. “Mr. Namaki [Saeed Namaki, Rouhani’s health minister] is no longer here to see that when I went for the second dose, they told me they didn’t have any in stock. They don’t say ‘Come tomorrow’; they just say they have none.

The journalist Hamideh Aminifar tweeted: “For my mother’s second dose we went to an emergency center. They only had enough for 300 people. Of course, the priority was those who were due to receive the second dose. But after standing for hours in the crowded line they simply announced that they had run out and we had to go back home.”

Vaccine for Hezbollah?

Age-based vaccinations have now stopped in Iran. But the Health Ministry insists the number of people being vaccinated is on the increase. This also begs the question as to whether some of those daily totals include vaccines supplied by the Islamic Republic to Hezbollah.

Last month it was reported in some Iranian media that a shipment of 30 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been sent from Iran to Venezuela, where Hezbollah has an active presence. The Red Crescent Society denied this was the case, saying it was only three million doses, not 30, and the vaccines were in transit “from China to Venezuela” and “did not belong to Iran”.  

As of now, the Red Crescent Society reports that it has delivered 20.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the Health Ministry. Iran has received another 10 million doses of vaccine through Covax and donations from Japan. So far, officials report, more than four million doses of the domestic CovIran-Barekat vaccine have also been produced.

The Health Ministry says that as of September 2, close to 28.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered in Iran. Bahram Einollahi, President Raisi’s new Health Minister, has since added that Iran needs at least 120 million doses – enough to initially protect 60 million people, or three quarters of the population –to arrive at “an acceptable level of immunity”. He claimed 40 to 50 million more doses would be imported by late October and vaccinations would be complete by late February.

Official Coronavirus Statistics

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 4,272 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending September 2. With 669 deaths, August 30 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.

At the week’s end, 7,831 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 28,442,990.

There are currently 306 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 110 are rated orange and 32 are yellow. No city in Iran is currently on “blue” alert.