Thursday , 2 December 2021

Iranian Study Casts More Doubt on Sinopharm Vaccine

Iranwire – Officials of the Islamic Republic are now claiming that around 75 percent of Iranians have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Of course, what’s not being mentioned is that this figure also encompasses those who’ve only received one of the required two doses, and under 25 percent of Iranians are considered fully protected.

That aside, most of the doses administered in Iran have also been the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. According to a new study conducted in Fars province, the vaccine’s efficacy in preventing against severe Covid-19 is significantly below par.

The province’s Health Policy Research Center, which is affiliated with the state-run Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, took in a sample of 380,000 residents of Fars province who had received a full course of Sinopharm. It found the vaccine was five percent effective at stopping new infections, 55.8 percent effective in preventing hospitalization and 65 percent in preventing fatalities.

The results of this study were described in a letter to Alireza Marandi, the head of Iran’s Academy of Medical Sciences and an advisor to the Supreme Leader, signed by former Health Minister Kamran Bagheri Lankarani, also a member of the academy.

Mohammad Reza Mahboubfar, a public health expert and researcher, told IranWire of the letter: “The first point to note is that we still don’t know whether the Sinopharm vaccine used in Iran was manufactured in Beijing or not.

“The vaccine made in Beijing is priced similarly to the AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. It has been exported to, and used by, many countries around the world including Australia, South America and Middle Eastern states. But there’s also a lower-grade version of Sinopharm being made in other Chinese cities and the United Arab Emirates. We still don’t know which one is being used in Iran.”

Since the letter’s publication, which deepened pre-existing concerns about the rollout of Sinopharm in Iran, the Health Policy Research Center published a statement saying that the study only related to infections with the Delta variant.

Unrealized Predictions

According to the Health Ministry, as of October 14, close to 70 million doses of coronavirus vaccine had been administered in Iran. Most of these doses were Sinopharm and imported during the fifth wave of coronavirus in late August and early September.

Despite this, and the increase in vaccination speed, the latest national statistics show that Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are once again on the rise. In the 24 hours ending at noon on October 14, 11,964 new cases of Covid-19 were identified in Iran, of which 1,770 patients were hospitalized.

Dr. Masoud Younesian, a professor at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, said it had been wrong to expect that an uptick in vaccinations would immediately lead to a fall in the number of new coronavirus infections.

The figures are also likely to be an understatement, as the Health Ministry can only report cases where people have taken a coronavirus test and returned a positive result. In an interview with IranWire on October 15, Dr. Shervin Shokouhi, head of infectious diseases at Tehran’s Loghman-e Hakim Hospital, said: “The number of new cases coming to the hospital has stabilized, although it is still increasing at a slow phase. But I believe that even now the number of cases and fatalities is higher than during the first wave. When they announce that 233 people who tested positive have died, it’s not a reliable figure.

“Classified” Statistics

According to the Health Ministry, Iran as a whole has left the fifth wave of coronavirus infections behind. But the fifth surge is still being felt in some big cities like Tehran, Karaj, Tabriz, Urmia and Isfahan.

Mohammad Reza Mahboubfar believes that since mid-September, Iran has in fact moved straight from the fifth peak to a sixth: a situation he blames on religious ceremonies during Muharram and people being allowed to travel.

“When it comes to publishing any statistics, the Islamic Republic weighs the situation,” he said. “It publishes high numbers when it finds it convenient and low numbers when it needs them to be low. For instance, it predicted that the sixth peak will start in November, whereas the sixth peak started in September.”

On October 14, Dr. Masoud Younesian also complained that the Health Ministry was not providing the experts with relevant information about Covid-19. He said that to anticipate the progress of the pandemic, daily statistics including positive tests categorized by province and the number of outpatients diagnosed with Covid-19 must be made available. Without them, he said, the forecasts are solely based on guesswork – and on information published by the World Health Organization.

“From the moment coronavirus came to Iran, statistics about the pandemic were largely confidential, and they still are,” Mahboubfar told IranWire. “The new administration claims around 75 percent of the citizenry has been vaccinated, but this figure is totally false because we know that not even 25 percent have been fully vaccinated. As a result of such claims, we also cannot trust the officials’ claim that Chinese and Iranian vaccines have been effective in reducing new cases and fatalities.

“When raw data is not made available to the medical community and scientists, they cannot make predictions about the progress of the disease in Iran. It’s turned into something akin to the water and electricity crises, and other economic issues, about which no transparent figures are available.”

Is Repeat Vaccination on the Way?

As mentioned, despite an increase in vaccine imports, the only vaccine widely available in Iran is Sinopharm. Other consignments of vaccines including AstraZeneca and the Russian-made Sputnik V are mostly earmarked for people’s second doses.

Mahboubfar believes that based on the sluggish early pace and the quality of the vaccines now on offer, a “repeat” vaccination process – starting all over again – is inevitable: “Repeat vaccination would mean that the health policies of the Islamic Republic have failed, and the country must negotiate with the world to import high-quality vaccines such as Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson.”

Dr. Shervin Shokouhi, however, is against the idea. “All the vaccines are aimed at reducing fatalities and all the existing vaccines do this. We must the use currently-available vaccines to stop the virus. No matter how many times we change them, the virus will change as well. We have to vaccinate, and it’s meaningless to complain as to why we are not using Pfizer. The important thing in the vaccination itself.”

For now at least, the Health Ministry has agreed to use Sinopharm vaccine as the booster jab for over-65s, health workers and vulnerable individuals who suffer from weakened immune systems.

Official Coronavirus Statistics

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 1,534 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending October 14. With 276 deaths, October 11 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.

At the week’s end, 4,983 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 69,641,130.

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