LONDON: Iran has come under fire from rights groups for “placing people above politics” for its ban on imports of British and American COVID-19 vaccines, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has responded by urging countries not to politicize the rollouts.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Friday: “Imports of US and British vaccines into the country are forbidden ... They’re completely untrustworthy. It’s not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations.”
In a media briefing attended by Arab News, Dr. Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the WHO’s director general, said: “It’s really time to put any kind of politics aside and make sure that vaccines get to the people that need them.”
Mansoureh Mills, Iran researcher at Amnesty International, told Arab News that the ban “is in step with the authorities’ decades-long contempt for human rights, including the right to life and health.”
She added: “It’s reckless that Iran’s supreme leader is toying with millions of lives by placing politics above people. The Iranian authorities must stop shamelessly ignoring their international human rights obligations by wilfully denying people their right to protection from a deadly virus that has killed more than 55,000 people in the country.”
Iran’s Red Crescent said the ban means that 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine that were donated by American philanthropists will no longer be entering the country.
The ban has also faced comprehensive criticism online. Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, tweeted: “Khamenei’s longtime personal physician (Alireza Marandi) trained in the US, but he forbids his population from benefiting from Western medicine. The well-being of the Iranian people has suffered greatly because of this antiquated ideology.”
Iran is grappling with the worst COVD-19 outbreak in the Middle East, with over 1.2 million cases and an official death toll of over 56,000.
Iran is said to be developing its own vaccine, but it lags far behind those of British and American companies such as AstraZeneca and Pfizer, which have fully functioning vaccines that have undergone extensive human trials.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has already begun its vaccine rollout, and the UAE has so far administered over 850,000 inoculations — around 8 percent of its population.