Iranian authorities chose not to purchase COVID-19 vaccines due to their cost, a top health official said on Wednesday, as coronavirus-related deaths in the Middle East’s worst-hit country exceeded 500 for a fourth consecutive day amid a fifth wave of the pandemic.
“They did not allow the purchase of vaccines because they thought they were expensive,” Alireza Zali, the head of Tehran’s anti-coronavirus headquarters, told reporters on Wednesday, referring to Iran’s authorities.
Iran “hid” its true coronavirus death toll from the World Health Organization, Zali said, adding: “When experts from the WHO came to Iran, instead of consulting with them, we constantly asked them to praise the Iranian health system in the media.”
Iran’s coronavirus death toll reached 95,647 on Wednesday with 536 deaths in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said. The total number of infections reached 4,281,217, it added.
Zali said Iranian envoys around the world did nothing to secure vaccines from other nations.
“I talked to the Japanese ambassador, and he said that the Iranian ambassador did not inquire about vaccines at all; what kind of diplomacy is this?”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hit back on Instagram, writing: “My colleagues and I did our best to increase the import of foreign vaccines.”
Zarif criticized what he described as “attacking, insulting and slandering the diplomatic apparatus.”
Zali recalled Iran’s expulsion of a team from international humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) who came to the country in March 2020 to treat coronavirus patients. “We sent back international aid and Doctors Without Borders from the airport while we did not have much information about the virus.”
Zali warned that the situation is going to “get much worse” in the coming weeks and added that authorities should purchase vaccines regardless of the cost.
“How come we are willing to buy equipment for the oil industry at three times the price while under sanctions, but not vaccines?”
Some Iranian officials have said US sanctions hindered Tehran’s access to medicine and medical supplies during the pandemic. Humanitarian goods such as medicines are exempt from US sanctions.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday the pandemic is currently Iran’s “number-one problem.”
“The number of infected people and the fatalities are truly tragic ... It is an urgent matter that must be curbed,” Khamenei, who in January banned imports of US- and British-made vaccines, said in a televised speech.
Without mentioning his ban on the import of US- and British-made vaccines, Khamenei said authorities should “increase efforts to both import and to produce homegrown vaccines.”