Iran is currently experiencing the highest Covid-19 death rate in the Middle East over the past few months. In August the new delta variant brought a fifth wave of Covid to the country that has brought the death toll to over 100,000 since the start of the pandemic. Hospitals in some of Iran’s major cities such as Tehran and Mashhad are beginning to reach their capacity as infection rates rise. Some have pointed to the Iranian government’s mismanagement in regard to their Covid policy. Government officials have been reluctant to release information concerning their response to the pandemic such as providing PPE, offering Covid tests and delivering adequate social welfare support for those forced to quarantine. Medicine and oxygen shortages are being reported in hospitals throughout larger cities. Death rates and vaccination data are also being severely understated by the Iranian government.
As of August 2021, only 3 million people have been fully vaccinated out of a possible 83 million. This is largely due to Iran banning the importation of Western vaccines. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed that these vaccines were untrustworthy although these claims are without any substantial evidence. This lack of confidence stems from sanctions placed on Iran by the United States which in turn has hindered the country’s economic growth. Iran have taken it upon themselves to develop their own vaccine, CovIran-Barekat, as well as importing Chinese vaccinations. Both vaccines are seen to be unreliable given the lack of information being released on how effective they are against Covid-19. The people of Iran have begun to grow frustrated with the Government’s reluctance to use more scientifically proven vaccines as Iran still requires 120 million vaccines to fully cover the rest of the population. Iran’s vaccination program has its own fundamental issues that have negatively impacted the efficiency of the vaccine roll out. Those without proper documentation or paperwork cannot receive a vaccine. This includes refugees from Afghanistan and other war-torn countries who lack the proper credentials through no fault of their own. Reports of corruptions within the Iranian Government have emerged over the mismanagement of funds put aside for the vaccination program. The combination of an unproven vaccine and policy mismanagement have only added to the struggle to control the spread of Covid-19 in Iran.
In light of the pandemic, Western sanctions should be reconsidered in order to improve Iran’s financial capabilities so that they can combat Covid-19 more effectively. In June the United States allowed for medical supplies to be traded with Iran but further talks are required to find a solution to this Covid crisis. Nevertheless, a greater level of accountability needs to be recognised by the Iranian Government. Criticism directed towards their own citizens for not following public health protocols and sceptics of Western vaccines are just ways of sidestepping the real issues. Iran is scheduled to fully vaccinate their entire population by February 2022 but until then the difficulties in attempting to curb death rates will remain.