Iran’s campaign to inoculate its population against the coronavirus disease 2019 and promote itself as an emerging vaccine manufacturer inched on as health authorities announced Tuesday that the country’s third homegrown vaccine has reached the phase of clinical trials.
Details about its production, however, remained slim.
Although Iran, with a population of more than 80 million, has so far imported foreign vaccines from Russia, China, India and Cuba to cover over 1.2 million people, concerns over its lagging pace of vaccinations have animated Iran’s drive to develop locally produced vaccines as wealthier nations snap up the lion’s share of vaccine doses worldwide.
Iranian scientists, like elsewhere in the world, are rushing to condense the typically years long process to develop vaccines into a few months — a task that has acquired urgency as the country struggles to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East and its economy reels from harsh American sanctions.
But details are scant about the Islamic Republic’s vaccine production efforts. Two other Iranian vaccines are also in the phase of clinical trials, with the most advanced, called Barekat, tested on 300 people so far.
The government said 20,000 volunteers in the capital of Tehran and other cities will soon receive Iran’s new vaccine, called Fakhra, which an official described to state-run media as being “100-percent safe,” without providing any evidence or data to support the claim. Earlier this week, the government launched a vaccine production factory it claims can make 3 million doses a day.
The vaccine introduced Tuesday on state TV was created by an affiliate of Iran’s Defense Ministry, known as the Research and Innovation Organization.
Like with the Barekat vaccine still in the initial phase of clinical trials, the company used inactivated coronaviruses from 35,000 samples to make the new vaccine, a traditional technology based on cultivating batches of the virus and then killing it. By comparison, Western drug manufacturers are taking a newer gene-based approach to target the spikes on the outer structure of the coronavirus, a method that had never been approved for widespread use before.
Iran’s fragmented approach to domestic vaccine production, with entities ranging from state-owned pharmaceutical conglomerates to the Defense Ministry working separately on at least six different vaccines, reflect the country’s wider factional rivalries and competing power structures.