On January 9, the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced that he was banning the import of American and British-made vaccines for Covid-19. His edict resulted in the immediate cancellation of the planned delivery of at least 100,000 doses whch were set to be donated by philanthropists in the US. While this number represents only a drop in the bucket compared to what the country of 83 million people requires, it would have kick-started Iran’s vaccination program long before locally made alternatives became available.
Even now, those alternatives demonstrate much lower efficacy than the vaccines Khamenei rejected, and there has been much less research into their safety and the longevity of their effects. The same is true of the Chinese and Russian doses that Iran has begun importing, neither of which have arrived in quantities anywhere near as large as originally promised. Making matters worse, the availability of all vaccines – including those that have been imported illegally – is constrained by the actions of private companies that have been entrusted with their distribution.
This arrangement, another policy spearheaded by the regime’s Supreme Leader Khamenei, has served to further enrich a number of entities that are affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. That hardline paramilitary, much like Khamenei himself, controls hundreds of billions of dollars in Iranian assets and overwhelmingly directs them toward pet projects, or channels them directly back into its own coffers. Thanks to the IRGC’s influence over vaccine distribution, there have been numerous reports of doses appearing on Iran’s black market with outrageous price tags, affordable only to the power elite in a country where the vast majority of the civilian population now lives below the poverty line.
Not only does the IRGC benefit directly from sales of vaccines, but its black market economy also helps to make sure that crises like the coronavirus pandemic have a much greater impact, over a much longer period of time, on ordinary Iranians while quickly passing over persons with close ties to the paramilitary.
It is easy to conclude from such developments that Iran’s “sixth wave” of coronavirus infections will not be coming to an end anytime soon. Whenever it does end, the resulting circumstances are unlikely to prevent the eventual arrival of a seventh. On Tuesday, Iranian regime’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi predicted that the “infection and death toll will continue to rise exponentially” for the foreseeable future, and that the lack of access to vaccines is a key reason why.
The regime’s vaccination program, has reached less than three percent of the Iranian population since Khamenei announced his intention to prioritize domestic drug production. The pace of vaccinations has not noticeably increased for weeks, and as a result the pace of new infections and fatalities has spiraled completely out of control. At the start of this week, Iran recorded a new record high for daily Covid-19 deaths, with 588 being recorded over a 24-hour period. During the same period, 40,808 new infections were recorded, though of course this only includes persons who have been officially tested, and most likely does not include all of them.
The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), maintains an extensive intelligence network inside Iran, which has been collecting hospital records, leaked government documents, and eyewitness statements to prepare its own regular reports on the impact of Covid-19 among Iranians.
— People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) (@Mojahedineng) August 12, 2021
The NCRI’s latest statements cite a death toll of 360,600, more than three and a half times the overall mortality figures reported by the government. Past statements have also argued that Khamenei’s mismanagement of the situation is at least partly deliberate and that the refusal of Western vaccines is part of a scheme to prolong the domestic health crisis as a means of reducing popular unrest. There are some indications that this has been effective, insofar as simultaneous protests were taking place in more than a dozen provinces at once as of January 2020, but were much less frequent and much smaller in scale for the rest of that year.
However, popular unrest has seen a resurgence in recent months despite worsening outbreaks and has been more or less constant since Raisi was confirmed as president in a tightly controlled electoral process on June 18. NCRI officials have pointed to this as evidence of a looming nationwide uprising much like those which took place in January 2018 and November 2019. And in a statement on Thursday, the coalition noted that the impact of Covid-19 may be a contributing factor in the unrest.
“Khamenei is to blame for the hundreds of thousands of deaths Covid-19 has inflicted on the Iranian people,” the NCRI stated. “And the people will remember that the next time they come to the streets to protest and call for regime change.”