TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that COVID-19 vaccinations will begin in the coming weeks in Iran.
"Foreign vaccines are a necessity until local vaccines are available,” Rouhani said in televised remarks, without giving details of what foreign vaccines would be used.
Earlier this month Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei banned the government from importing vaccines from the United States and Britain.
The Leader said the U.S. and Britain are "untrustworthy” and possibly seek to spread Covid-19 to other countries. His edict bans imports of the BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 jabs.
Ayatollah Khamenei said in a televised address that "if the Americans were able to produce” a trustworthy vaccine, "the coronavirus catastrophe wouldn’t have happened in their country”.
The Leader also said that "given our experience with France’s HIV-tainted blood supplies, French vaccines aren’t trustworthy either”.
That was a reference to a scandal in the 1980s in which blood infected with HIV was distributed in France, and later abroad, even after the government became aware of the problem. Hundreds of people in Iran were among those infected.
France’s then prime minister Laurent Fabius was charged with manslaughter but acquitted in 1999, while his health minister was convicted but never punished.
Rouhani himself, in compliance with Ayatollah Khamenei’s ban, has said that his government would purchase "safe foreign vaccines.”
Iran launched human trials of its first domestic vaccine candidate late last month, saying this could help it defeat the pandemic despite U.S. sanctions that affect its ability to import vaccines.
"There have been good movements in the field of local and foreign vaccines,” Rouhani said, adding that three domestic vaccines - Barekat, Pasteur and Razi, some of which have been developed with foreign collaboration - could begin in the spring and summer.
Cuba said earlier this month that it had signed an accord with Tehran to transfer the technology for its most advanced coronavirus vaccine candidate and carry out last-stage clinical trials of the shot in Iran.
Tehran and Havana are under tough U.S. sanctions that while they exempt medicine often deter foreign pharmaceutical companies from trading with them.
In addition to developing its own vaccine, Iran is participating in the COVAX scheme which aims to secure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries.
The country has recorded 1,150,000 cases and 57,000 deaths, according to government data. There has been a decline in recent weeks of new infections and deaths.
Rouhani said Iran will receive over 16 million doses of vaccines from COVAX, adding the country will also try to procure vaccines from elsewhere.
"The domestic vaccine is an honor for us, and the foreign vaccine is a necessity … until the domestic one is available,” he said.