Iran Bans U.S., U.K. Covid-19 Vaccines in Feud With West
A box of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines is opened after delivery. (Photographer: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg)

Iran Bans U.S., U.K. Covid-19 Vaccines in Feud With West

Iran’s Supreme Leader said he was banning the purchase of coronavirus vaccines made by U.S. and U.K. companies, limiting the country’s options as it confronts the worst outbreak in the Middle East.

“The import of American and British vaccines to the country is banned,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech Friday. “If their Pfizer manufacturer can produce a vaccine, then why do they want to give it to us?” he said. “They should use it themselves so they don’t experience so many fatalities. Same with the U.K.”

Khamenei is a strident critic of the U.S., which under President Donald Trump left the 2015 nuclear deal that had offered Iran a route to economic recovery and reimposed sweeping sanctions. Iranian officials have said the penalties hindered the country’s response to the pandemic.

The cleric said western drug companies tested vaccines on other countries “to see if they work or not.”

Khamenei only singled out Pfizer Inc. by name, but the ban would appear to rule out imports of vaccines made by U.K.-based AstraZeneca Plc, as well as U.S. firm Moderna Inc.

Iran’s Red Crescent Society later announced the cancellation of an existing deal for 150,000 shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine donated by U.S. philanthropists, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, citing an interview with spokesman Mohammad-Hassan Qosian-Moqaddam.

He said the Pfizer order had been “provisional,” and that the Red Crescent would receive “one million coronavirus vaccines from one of the eastern countries,” most likely Russia, China or India.

Central bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemmati said in December that Tehran was in talks with China for a million vaccine doses. Officials have also held discussions with Russia about joint production of its Sputnik V jab.

Hemmati had also said Iran hoped to purchase of 16.8 million vaccine doses from the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, after overcoming some of the obstacles created by U.S. sanctions.

Iran, which has recorded more than 1.2 million cases of Covid-19 and in excess of 55,000 fatalities from the virus, also aims to have a locally developed vaccine available by the summer.

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