An unidentified group of US-based philanthropists plans to send 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Iran in the coming weeks, Iranian media reports, in a step that could bring the hardest-hit country in the Middle East closer to inoculating its citizens against the coronavirus.
Details remain scarce in the report by semiofficial Tasnim news agency. It quotes the chief of the country’s Red Crescent Society as saying he expects the vaccine created by American drug maker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to be imported by January 19 “based on coordination with a group of benefactors in the US.”
Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East, which has infected over 1.2 million people and killed nearly 55,000.
Karim Hemmati, the Red Crescent director, says his organization plans to receive an additional 1 million vaccine doses, which on Sunday the semiofficial Khabaronline.it news website reported would come from China. The vaccines will be offered to citizens free of charge, Hemmati says.
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.
Iran has signed up for COVAX, an international program designed to distribute coronavirus vaccines to participating countries regardless of their wealth. It’s run in part by Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. which says the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control has already issued a license for Iran to take part. The US Treasury has not reacted to Iran’s participation.