Iran has tested a homemade coronavirus vaccine on 30 people with no signs of side effects after the volunteers received the second dose, a senior health official told Iranian media on Monday.
The news comes after Iran earlier this month banned the import of the American Pfizer-BioNTech and Britain’s AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, a reflection of Tehran’s mistrust toward the West.
Minoo Mohraz, a senior member of Iran’s National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus, told the Fars news agency that the Iranian vaccine would now be tested on 300 volunteers in a second phase trial.
The county began testing its vaccines on humans in December.
Iran’s Health Minister on Sunday said this vaccine was one of 3 in development in the Islamic Republic and he hoped they would be ready by March and available to the public by June.
“Fortunately, the Iranian scientists are making round-the-clock efforts to make our national vaccine, and in the near future, we will be one of the most important centers for making Covid-19 vaccine in the world,” he said according to Fars.
Iran in the meantime would be purchasing vaccines from other international providers and is set to get some 16 million doses via the UN-backed COVAX program, presumably of Russian or Chinese manufacture.
In a televised speech earlier in the month Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the import of American and British vaccines was “forbidden.”
”I really do not trust them,” Khamenei said of those nations. “Sometimes they want to test” their vaccines on other countries, he said, adding, “I am not optimistic (about) France,” either.
Khamenei’s statement reflects decades of tense relations between Iran and the West.
On the virus, Iranian officials have said previously that importing the Pfizer vaccine, which must be shipped and stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), poses major logistical challenges for Iran.
However, Khamenei has okayed the import of vaccines from other “safe” places, and remains supportive of Iran’s efforts toward producing a vaccine.
Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East, which has infected nearly 1.3 million people and killed nearly 56,000.
Hardliners in Iran have long opposed the US-made vaccines. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in December rejected the use of foreign-made vaccines altogether. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi said the Guard “does not recommend the injection of any foreign vaccine” candidates based on genetic material known as messenger RNA, which carries the instructions for cells to make proteins.
Authorities said then that US-based benefactors plan to deploy scores of thousands of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus to Iran.