According to analysis from the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, MEK more than 2,000 Iranians died from Covid-19 on Tuesday alone. As of Friday, the MEK reported that over 374,300 Iranians have died as a result of coronavirus infection since the beginning of the pandemic. This is more than three and a half times the regime’s engineered death toll, although even Health Ministry officials and some state media outlets have recently begun casting doubt on official statistics.
These unprecedented internal challenges to the regime’s narratives are no doubt the result of mounting public outrage over the effects of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s ban on foreign-made vaccines. Alireza Zali, the head of Tehran’s Covid-19 response committee, recently acknowledged that enforcement of these bans was motivated largely by concerns over cost, and not by the safety concerns that were cited by Khamenei’s office and his supporters.
However, the real motive for Khamenei to ban vaccines was his intention to use the Covid-19 outbreak to quell Iran’s restive society.
The dangerous effects of the ban became apparent very soon after it was announced in January, as American philanthropists were forced to cancel the planned delivery of over 100,000 doses to Iran. The regime’s authorities promised to make up for the initial losses by producing domestic alternatives. As a result, less than four percent of the population has been vaccinated so far, and it remains unclear how well-protected the recipients of domestically-made doses have been.
Banning vaccines and insisting on producing the “domestic vaccines,” has only helped to further enrich corrupt entities like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which controls many of the so-called private entities that were tasked with vaccine distribution in the wake of Khamenei’s ban. Besides IRGC, the financial institutions under Khamenei’s
That task was expressly taken out of the hands of the Health Ministry in a move that signaled greater concern for financial and ideological considerations than the basic requirements of public health.
While Iranians have been slipping deeper into poverty during a years-long economic crisis, the regime has been sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in financial assets, as well as continuing its wasteful spending on the support of regional militant proxies and the development of ballistic missiles. These resources are directly controlled by Khamenei via a series of so-called religious foundations, while others represent the IRGC’s extensive penetration of the private sector, which amounts to control over more than half of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Although Iranian producers of vaccines have underperformed, this has not stopped them from serving as outlets for self-dealing by the financial institution known as the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s order. This entity, founded in large part on the confiscation of property from political prisoners and other targets of the regime’s greed, received an infusion of millions of dollars during the pandemic on the pretense of financing vaccine development.
Now that Khamenei and the IRGC have profited substantially from the production and varied distribution of vaccines from both at home and abroad, Khamenei’s ban on American and British imports appears less important and is being quietly reversed in an effort to forestall the further growth of public outrage over a botched vaccination program. Regime authorities claim to be on the verge of purchasing 30 million new doses, though they have not specified where they are to come from. Many state media outlets have even questioned the regime’s attempt to procure vaccines.
More than that, many are angry or perplexed by the prior absence of these imports. One state-run daily newspaper, Jomleh, published an article on August 16 which said: “When the problem was not this critical and we had the opportunity to purchase Covid-19 vaccines from COVAX and vaccinate the population, we implemented our own method, boycotted the world. We entered a path that was unknown for the entire world, and now when the situation has become complicated, we have changed our path.”
The sincerity of that change remains to be seen, as do its effects. But with at least several weeks between vaccines being purchased and taking effect within the bodies of their recipients, there is no doubt that the latest vaccination drive will be too little, too late for many of the Iranians who are currently suffering from infection or working in conditions that put them at risk. Much of that work is supposedly on hold for two weeks following the regime’s begrudging imposition of a lockdown, but since that measure is not accompanied by support for the general public, many will have no choice but to put themselves at risk anyway, in order to make a living.
For these reasons and others, a number of the regime’s health officials are anticipating an even worse crisis in the days and weeks ahead. The outgoing Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi acknowledged on Wednesday that death tolls will continue to climb for the next three weeks, and the outgoing head of the Ministry publicly acknowledged the possibility that the country’s health system could collapse during that time. Hospitals throughout the country are over-capacity and dead bodies are presently being transported by taxi in regions that have entirely run out of hearses. Tehran has, in at least some respects, deliberately mismanaged the crisis to an extent that demands the pandemic response be taken out of the hands of Khamenei’s regime.