Tehran, Iran – Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei received a dose of the country’s first locally developed COVID-19 vaccine.

Khamenei called the vaccine development “national pride” on Friday.

“Some people insisted some time ago that I use a vaccine,” said the 82-year-old man, who once had a series of health problems, after receiving the first dose of the vaccine called COVIran Barekat.

“I didn’t want to use a non-Iranian vaccine. I said that we will wait, inshallah, for the local vaccine to be produced and for us to be able to use our own vaccine, ”he said.

The Supreme Leader in January banned the use of vaccines made in the US and UK, including those developed by Pfizer and Moderna, because he said they “are not trustworthy.”

Human trials of the COVIran Barekat vaccine began in late December and around 24,000 volunteers were injected as part of its recently completed third phase of trials.

The vaccine received emergency use authorization earlier this month and is expected to be rolled out on a large scale in the coming weeks.

Setad, a powerful organization led by the Supreme Leader who is in charge of vaccine development, said it now produces three million doses per month and will soon increase production to 11 million doses per month to become the largest manufacturer. vaccines in the Middle East.

Although the vaccine’s detailed scientific data has not been made public and peer reviewed, its developers have claimed that it is 93.5% effective in people aged 18 to 75 in its second phase. human trials.

They also claimed that 12 countries in Asia, South America and Europe wanted to buy the vaccine, without naming them.

Immunization efforts still lagging behind

Iran recently succeeded in controlling a deadly fourth wave of coronavirus that has so far killed more than 83,000 people in what has become the deadliest pandemic in the Middle East.

Health officials are already sounding the alarm on a potential fifth wave of the virus.

Even though Iran imported millions of doses of foreign vaccines, it had mainly relied on local vaccines to inoculate most of its 83 million people.

Doses have been imported from Russia, China, India and through the World Health Organization’s global immunization initiative known as COVAX.

However, amid money transfer issues caused by US sanctions, imports fell behind, resulting in a slow vaccination effort and large discrepancies between the administration of the first and second dose.

According to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Health, so far just over five percent of the total population has been vaccinated.

Videos have also circulated online showing that some vaccination centers have been in high demand, resulting in hours of waiting and endless queues of elderly and vulnerable Iranians.

Iranian Food and Drug Administration spokesman Kianush Jahanpur drew widespread criticism and called for his resignation when he called those who criticized lagging vaccination efforts on Thursday as despicable.

More Iranian vaccines on the way

COVIran Barekat is expected to be deployed soon as several other locally developed vaccines are in various stages of development.

A vaccine developed by the Institut Pasteur in Iran in collaboration with Cuba is completing its third phase of human trials in several cities in Iran and should soon receive emergency use authorization. It is said to be 62 percent effective.

Razi COV-Pars, a vaccine developed by the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute, is also undergoing its third phase of human trials and is expected to be approved in the coming weeks.

An organization under Iran’s Defense Ministry has also developed a vaccine called Fakhravac in honor of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist who was assassinated in November in an attack blamed on Israel.

It comes as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has announced that it will soon unveil a vaccine developed by its scientists.

At least one vaccine developed by the Iranian private sector is also in human trials.

Health ministry officials have expressed hope that the jab developed by biotech company CinnaGen can pass human trials in the coming months.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki also announced earlier this week that Iran will unveil its locally produced version of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine on Saturday.

Iran had started its vaccination efforts with the Russian vaccine from February.

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