Vaccine debate rages in Iran as region pushes forward with inoculation

The planned import and use of the Russian vaccine has proved controversial in the Islamic Republic.

A nurse prepares Russia's "Sputnik-V" vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for inoculation at a clinic in Tver, Russia October 12, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/TATYANA MAKEYEVA/FILE PHOTO)
A nurse prepares Russia's "Sputnik-V" vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for inoculation at a clinic in Tver, Russia October 12, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TATYANA MAKEYEVA/FILE PHOTO)
The first shipment of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V is expected to arrive in Iran in the coming days, Tehran Times reported Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, head of the country’s Food and Drug Administration, saying. However, while the country has struggled to begin vaccinating its population, news of the Russian vaccine was not accepted with undisputed approbation.
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Almost 100 members of Iran’s Medical Council Board sent a letter to President Hassan Rouhani saying that the use of Sputnik V before it receives international approval may be “dangerous,” al-Jazeera reported. The Iranian health minister has said that maligning any state-imported vaccines was tantamount to “national treason.”
Iran’s purchase of 4.2 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine reported this week also faced potential hurdles following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s January statement that Iran would not buy British and US vaccines. Bloomberg reported that the statement released to the Iranian press regarding the expected import made sure to refer to AstraZeneca, a Swedish-British company, as a “Swedish company,” to avoid a potential clash with the supreme leader’s ban.
Elsewhere in the region, the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported this week that discussions are being held to open the country’s vaccination drive to private players, who would be able to import additional doses.
Last week, both Lebanon and Egypt launched an online registration platform to allow citizens to sign up for vaccination. Egypt began its rollout on January 24 but progress is expected to be slow. The North African country has experienced a second wave of the pandemic but numbers have tapered off, leading an Egyptian official to estimate that the country is past the wave’s peak, Arab News reported. 
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared that some 20% of the Syrian population will be vaccinated in an effort that falls under the umbrella of its COVAX program, which aims to help lower-income countries vaccinate their population. The organization hopes to begin the limited rollout in April.
In Jordan, reports this week have indicated that the kingdom is seeking to add the Russian vaccine Sputnik V to the Sinopharm and Pfizer vaccines currently approved for use in the vaccination drive, which was launched last month.
To the kingdom’s east, Iraqi Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi has said that a nationwide curfew may be reimposed if numbers maintain their upward incline, Xinhua News reported. Tamimi said on Monday that Iraq would receive 2.5 million to 3 million vaccine doses at the end of the month. 
In Israel, vaccination is now offered to all citizens aged 16 and over, following a decline in recent days in the number of those seeking vaccination. A total of 3.3 million Israelis have been vaccinated to date but the country continues to diagnose thousands of new cases daily.
Kuwait has imposed a set of new restrictions following a recent rise in the number of cases. Business working hours have been limited and gatherings banned. These measures are in addition to Wednesday's declaration that entry of foreigners into the country would be forbidden for two weeks, starting February 7. Neighboring Saudi Arabia has announced similar measures in recent days, also resulting from an increase in the number of infections.
Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 12:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.


Country
Confirmed Cases
Deaths
Recovered
Active Cases
Afghanistan
55,256
2,407
47,995
4,854
Algeria
108,116
2,900
73,940
31,276
Bahrain
104,792
376
99,527
4,889
Cyprus
31,263
203
2,057
29,003
Djibouti
5,936
63
5,848
25
Egypt
167,525
9,460
130,912
27,153
Iran
1,438,286
58,189
1,229,391
150,706
Iraq
624,222
13,091
596,959
14,172
Israel
672,324
4,975
589,617
77,732
Jordan
330,474
4,344
317,218
8,912
Kuwait
167,410
961
159,543
6,906
Lebanon
309,162
3,315
188,824
117,023
Libya
122,013
1,919
102,448
17,646
Mauritania
16,720
424
15,851
445
Morocco
473,047
8,323
451,780
12,944
Oman
135,041
1,532
127,266
6,243
Pakistan
550,540
11,833
505,818
32,889
Palestinian Territories
161,087
1,865
151,082
8,140
Qatar
152,898
249
146,474
6,175
Saudi Arabia
368,945
6,386
360,400
2,159
Somalia
4,814
132
3,720
962
Sudan
27,443
1,830
21,695
3,918
Syria
14,202
933
7,807
5,462
Tunisia
212,679
6,980
167,699
38,000
Turkey
2,501,079
26,354
2,387,384
87,341
United Arab Emirates
316,875
888
293,180
22,807
Yemen
2,122
615
1,427
80
Total
9,074,271
170,547
8,185,862
717,862