ISTANBUL — Iran said it has signed a contract for 60 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, amid rising discontent over the slow pace of vaccinations during a vicious surge in coronavirus infections.
Iran’s ambassador to Russia, Kazem Jalali, said Thursday that the doses would arrive between June and December, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. Iran has struggled with one of the world’s most severe outbreaks while struggling to obtain vaccines — partly, it says, because of U.S. sanctions but also because of well-publicized missteps by Iran’s government.
In one setback, Iran’s supreme leader announced in January that he had banned the import of U.S. and British-made coronavirus vaccines, calling them “completely untrustworthy.”
Iran, with a population of 80 million, has received a few hundred thousand vaccine doses from China and India, and earlier this month received 700,000 doses as part of the global Covax initiative.
But as of April 11, the government had only administered about 400,000 vaccine doses, according to the World Health Organization. The government is developing several indigenous vaccines and collaborating with Cuba to develop vaccines as well.
Daily infection rates in Iran reached record highs over the past week, which officials have blamed on a surge of domestic travel during the Iranian new year last month as well as the spread of variants. As the vaccination effort has faltered, criticism and finger-pointing among government officials have surfaced in the Iranian press.
A report in the moderate Hamshahri newspaper March 7 quoted Hossein Ghanaati, the chairman of a pandemic-management think tank in Iran, as saying that the government did not have a “precise plan for providing vaccines.” Another report Friday in the semi-official Iran Students’ News Agency (ISNA) quoted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani calling vaccines “the key” to stemming the outbreak.
In an implicit criticism of the supreme leader’s vaccine ban, he added: “We cannot be waiting for the internally produced vaccines in the summer, and we need to use all kinds of foreign vaccines, and all companies are allowed.”