TEHRAN

The first phase of the human trial of Iran’s COVID-19 vaccine starts this week and over 10,000 volunteers have already signed up for it, according to officials.

The volunteers enrolling for the human trial, according to guidelines issued by the government, should be aged between 18 and 50 and in sound health condition.

In the first stage, 56 volunteers would be chosen to receive two shots given two weeks apart, the results of which would be evaluated four weeks later to check the vaccine’s immunity response.

Iran reported the first cases of the virus in mid-February, before the virus spread to different parts of the country, becoming one of the hardest-hit countries in the region.

More than one million people in Iran have so far contracted the virus and over 54,000 have died from it. The new cases and deaths have, however, dropped in recent weeks following lockdown.

According to officials in the Health Ministry, the process to produce the vaccine took at least 10 months with the involvement of many noted knowledge-based companies in Iran.

The three phases of the trial, industry experts told Anadolu Agency, are likely to be completed by June 2021, although mass production could begin before the trials are over.

The human trial of the vaccine comes after it was tested on rabbits and guinea pigs, followed by monkeys, based on the standards set by the World Health Organisation, officials said.

The necessity to produce a homegrown vaccine has been driven by lack of accessibility to vaccines produced abroad due to US sanctions and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklisting. 

Sanctions

The fight against the pandemic in Iran has been severely hampered by US sanctions, according to government officials and industry experts. Now, Iran is also facing hurdles in importing vaccines.

Although the Iran government had allocated $40 million for the purchase of newly introduced Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the US sanctions have made the process complicated, officials say.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani earlier this month said the US sanctions were “blocking” Tehran’s purchase of medical equipment and vaccines from abroad.

Chief of Iran’s Central Bank Abdolnaser Hemmati alleged that the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had refused a sanctions waiver to banks looking to process Iranian funds for purchase of vaccines.

The calls for making the vaccine available to people in Iran have come from organizations both within and outside the country.

On Tuesday, Medical Council of Iran chief Dr. Mohammadreza Zafarghandi in a letter to the World Health Organisation sought ways to make COVID-19 vaccine accessible to people in Iran, saying that banking restrictions were hampering their efforts in the fight against the virus.

A coalition of human rights groups in the West have also called on the US government to ensure that sanctions do not prevent Iranians from accessing the vaccines. 

FATF blacklist

Another hurdle in the way of purchasing vaccines, according to some Iranian officials, is Iran’s blacklisting by FATF, a Paris-based inter-governmental body against money laundering.

Iran’s inclusion on the FATF blacklist has prevented banking institutions across the world from processing Iranian funds, making it difficult to purchase the vaccine.

Former Iranian deputy parliament speaker Ali Motahari last week said Iran could not make the $50 million payment for its quota of the WHO-approved vaccine as it was blacklisted by FATF.

To comply with FATF standards, Iran is required to clear four legislations that would increase transparency in financial dealings in accordance with international standards.

Meanwhile, Hemmati in a statement posted on his Instagram on Thursday said the initial agreement to transfer money for purchasing vaccine has been made this morning, and the payment order has been issued too.

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