Iran plans to abandon production of its Fakhravac Covid-19 vaccine for lack of demand, its defense ministry said on Tuesday. Iran’s five other domestic Covid vaccines could also be in jeopardy, as Iranians have shown they prefer imported vaccines.
The Iranian vaccines have been undermined by the health ministry’s decision to back away from initial promises to purchase large quantities of doses from domestic manufacturers.
“We are in the process of planning to end production, because who will we sell it to?” Ahmad Karimi, the director of the Fakhravac vaccine program, told Iranian news outlets on Tuesday. He said about a million doses had been stockpiled.
A day after the defense ministry announced its plans, the head of the country’s Food and Drug Agency promised to purchase three million doses of Fakhravac and another domestic vaccine. It was not clear whether that would affect the defense ministry’s decision about ending production.
The Fakhravac vaccine had received emergency use authorization in Iran but was still undergoing clinical trials to obtain full approval, and the defense ministry, which developed it, was having trouble finding enough participants for those trials.
Iran has been among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. The official death toll so far is about 125,000, but health officials and independent experts say the true figure is several times higher. Chaotic planning, lack of transparency and official refusal to lock down cities and impose quarantines early in the pandemic led to major surges in infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
When vaccines became available, Iranian officials said they would give priority to domestically made shots, and health officials boasted that they would have the whole population inoculated by the end of the summer and be able to export surplus doses.
The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, banned American- and British-made coronavirus vaccines, claiming that they had been designed to harm Iranians — a decision that many critics say caused Iran to fall behind on vaccination and led to more illness and death from the virus. Iran has sped up imports in recent months, and the health minister said that about 120 million doses had been obtained from abroad.
About 59 percent of Iran’s 85 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine, and about 30 percent are fully vaccinated, according to official statistics; Iran is not yet giving booster shots on a wide scale.
The Fakhravac vaccine is named for Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, who was assassinated by Israel in November 2020. It was developed by the research branch of the defense ministry and given emergency use authorization in September, when a major surge in cases in Iran was beginning to ease.
Mr. Karimi boasted at the time that the defense ministry would soon produce 5 million doses of Fakhravac a day, but production has never come close to that level.
Mr. Karimi said on Tuesday that the health ministry had not delivered on promises to purchase large quantities of domestic vaccines, a complaint that other manufacturers have also raised.
“Unfortunately, due to the flood of imported vaccines, our policymakers are not paying attention to domestic vaccines,” said Abbas Ashtari, the head of biological products at the Razi Research Institute, which produces a vaccine called CovPars.