Iran accuses US of thwarting its efforts to acquire coronavirus vaccines

Washington’s European allies and human rights groups have called for the lifting of sanctions against Iran during the pandemic

The  Tajrish bazaar in Tehran, Iran. With more than a million cases and 50,000 fatalities, Iran has suffered the most widespread and deadly Covid-19 infection rate in the Middle East. Photograph: EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

The Tajrish bazaar in Tehran, Iran. With more than a million cases and 50,000 fatalities, Iran has suffered the most widespread and deadly Covid-19 infection rate in the Middle East. Photograph: EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

 

Iran has accused the US of thwarting its efforts to acquire coronavirus vaccines.

Tehran says Trump administration sanctions have stalled its efforts to purchase vaccines through Covax, a global procurement and distribution body established by the World Health Organisation to ensure equitable global supplies.

Iranian central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati said “it must be recorded in historical memory” that Iran’s attempts to pre-pay orders by transferring funds “have faced obstacles due to the inhumane sanctions of the US government and the need to obtain permits from the OFAC”, the US treasury’s office of foreign assets control.

Since Iran announced its intention to join Covax months ago the OFAC has had time to prepare licences, but multiple layers of sanctions and red tape slow every approved transaction.

Washington’s European allies and human rights groups have called for the lifting of sanctions against Iran during the pandemic to expedite delivery of humanitarian aid.

While a Covax spokesman said Iran had been granted an exemption to procure vaccines, sanctions have blocked Iran’s efforts to secure funds from foreign deposits to pre-purchase vaccines.

Iran has ordered 16.8 million vaccine doses, which would inoculate 10 million of its 80 million people, according to its ministry of health spokesman Kianush Jahanpour.

In theory Iran should be able to import medical supplies and food freely but in practice foreign banks and firms risk the imposition of secondary US sanctions if they engage in business with Tehran.

Before and since the start of the pandemic Iranians have been deprived of medications for heart and kidney disease, diabetes and cancer by the freeze on Iran’s funds in foreign banks and denial of access to international financial networks.

More than 180 countries have joined Covax, which aims to pool resources and distribute vaccines worth $2 billion to both rich and poor countries by the end of 2021.

While the current lack of funds may not prevent Tehran from participating in Covax, failure to contribute could eventually prevent Iran from contributing its share and securing a timely supply of vaccines.

Fatalities

With more than a million cases and 50,000 fatalities, Iran has suffered the most widespread and deadly Covid-19 infection rate in the Middle East. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has ramped up sanctions and vows to continue doing so weekly until the January 20th inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden.

The New York Times carried an editorial on October 13th arguing that the “broad application of sanctions amounts to collective punishment for tens of millions of innocent Iranians who are already suffering under a brutally repressive regime”.

In a report in 2019, Human Rights Watch said US policy had deprived Iranians of the “right to health”.

If Tehran fails to contain and counter the pandemic, Iran will remain a coronavirus spreader, threatening the region and the wider world.