© Reuters. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a press conference in New York
DUBAI (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that COVID-19 vaccinations will begin in the coming weeks in Iran, the Middle East's hardest hit country.
"Foreign vaccines are a necessity until local vaccines are available," Rouhani said in televised remarks, without giving details of which foreign vaccines would be used.
Earlier this month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's highest authority, banned the government from importing vaccines from the US and the UK, which he said they might try to spread the infection to other countries.
Rouhani himself said, in accordance with Khamenei's ban at the time, that his government would buy "safe foreign vaccines".
Iran started human trials of its first domestic vaccine candidate late last month. This could help fight the pandemic despite U.S. sanctions affecting its ability to import vaccines.
"There has been good movement in the field of local and foreign vaccines," said Rouhani, adding that three domestic vaccines – Barekat, Pasteur and Razi, some of which were developed in foreign collaboration – could start in the spring and summer.
Cuba announced earlier this month that it had signed an agreement with Tehran to transfer technology for its most advanced coronavirus vaccine candidate and conduct final stage clinical trials in Iran.
Tehran and Havana are subject to harsh US sanctions that, while exempting drugs, often deter foreign pharmaceutical companies from trading with them.
In addition to developing its own vaccine, Iran is participating in the COVAX program, which aims to ensure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for poorer countries.
The country has recorded 1,150,000 cases and 57,000 deaths, according to the government. New infections and deaths have decreased in recent weeks.
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