Iran plans to abandon production of its Fakhravac Covid-19 vaccine due to lack of demand, its defense ministry announced on Tuesday. The other five national Covid vaccines could also be at risk, as the Iranians have shown they prefer imported vaccines.
Iran’s vaccines have been compromised by the health ministry’s decision to renege on its initial promises to purchase large amounts of doses from domestic manufacturers.
“We’re planning to end production, because who are we going to sell it to?” Ahmad Karimi, the director of the Fakhravac vaccination program, told Iranian media on Tuesday. He said about a million doses had been stored.
A day after the Defense Ministry announced its plans, the head of the National Food and Drug Agency promised to purchase three million doses of Fakhravac and another national vaccine. It was not clear whether this would affect the Defense Ministry’s decision to end production.
The Fakhravac vaccine had received emergency use authorization in Iran but was still in clinical trials for full approval, and the Defense Ministry, which developed it, was struggling to find enough participants for these trials.
Iran is among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. The official death toll so far is around 125,000, but health officials and independent experts say the actual figure is several times higher. Chaotic planning, lack of transparency and the official refusal to lock down cities and impose quarantines at the start of the pandemic have resulted in a significant increase in infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
When the vaccines became available, Iranian officials said they would prioritize domestically-made vaccines, and health officials bragged about getting the entire population vaccinated by the end of the summer and to be able to export excess doses.
The country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has banned coronavirus vaccines made in the US and UK, saying they were designed to harm Iranians – a move that many critics say , has caused Iran to fall behind on vaccinations and led to more illness and death from the virus. Iran has ramped up imports in recent months, and the health minister said around 120 million doses have been obtained from abroad.
About 59 percent of the 85 million Iranians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and about 30 percent are fully immunized, according to official statistics; Iran is not yet giving full-scale recalls.
The Fakhravac vaccine is named after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s foremost nuclear scientist, who was assassinated by Israel in November 2020. It was developed by the research arm of the Ministry of Defense and received authorization for use from emergency in September, when a significant increase in cases in Iran began to relax.
Mr Karimi boasted at the time that the Defense Ministry would soon be producing 5 million doses of Fakhravac per day, but production never reached that level.
Mr Karimi said on Tuesday that the health ministry had failed to keep promises to purchase large quantities of domestic vaccines, a complaint other manufacturers have also raised.
“Unfortunately, due to the flood of imported vaccines, our policymakers are not paying attention to domestic vaccines,” said Abbas Ashtari, head of biologics at the Razi Research Institute, which produces a vaccine called CovPars.