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Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

September 30, 2021
Pouyan Khoshhal
28 min read
Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

August 27 – September 2, 2021

Both Iranian citizens and the media are – again – reporting widespread closures at health centers due to shortages of Covid-19 vaccines. But the Islamic Republic’s official figures imply the nationwide vaccination drive has sped up.

“Today, September 2, all the vaccination hubs in western Tehran were closed because they had no vaccines,” tweeted the journalist Zahra Arab. “People were desperate. They were wandering around and not knowing what to do.” Addressing Kianoush Jahanpour, spokesman for Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, she added: “At least announce that you have no vaccines, you heartless people. This is how you became a ‘world leader’?!”.

About an hour after Arab’s missive, and amid tens of other reports from across Iran about centers being closed, Nader Tavakoli, the deputy director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, claimed: “General vaccinations are currently progressing at a good speed.”

The Health Ministry’s official figures indicate that in the 24 hours ending at noon on September 2, 375,000 doses of vaccine were administered to people across Iran. The combined total for both August 31 and 560,000.

Despite this apparent increase across the board, the closure of health centers at the local level has provoked another wave of criticism of the Islamic Republic’s Covid-19 policies. Iran is now in the grip of a fifth wave, with the officially-recorded daily death toll reaching 610 on Sunday and 246 on red alert for coronavirus transmission.

Like many other countries, Iran began by vaccinating health workers before moving to those with high-risk jobs and the general population, staggered by age. But endless broken promises on such matters as the vaccination timetable, the long-awaited mass production of domestic vaccines and, of course, Ali Khamenei’s ban on importing American and British-made vaccines, while multiple different strains of coronavirus were able to flourish, has now meant the official death toll, likely an underestimate, now stands at 600 to 700 a day.

Job-Based vs. Age-Based Vaccine Scheduling

This summer the Iranian authorities announced that journalists, taxi and public transport drivers, drivers for the ridesharing company Tapsi and ride hailing company Snapp, teachers, university students and teachers, workers with the Irancell telecoms firm and Mobile Telecommunication of Iran (MCI), some government employees and seminary students aged over 18 would be among those in line for early vaccination.

But even for this – relatively small – cohort, there is evidently not enough vaccine available In Isfahan province, where a number of vaccination centers have also closed down, Snapp and Tapsi drivers were told not to come for their jab. Provincial officials in Isfahan said they had “zero” doses of AstraZeneca left and even teachers and bank staff were told not to attend unless they received a text message from the Health Ministry.

Mohammad Reza Raoufi, director of the medical center at Tarbiat Modarres University, reported that around 4,100 students, employees and faculty members had been vaccinated before they were ordered to stop making appointments. He assumes the reason behind this was vaccine supply shortages.

Kurdistan University of Medical Sciences also announced that because of the lack of supply, no vaccinations would be carried out on September 4 and 5. And Yazd University of Medical Sciences declared that all vaccination centers in the city of Yazd would close on the afternoon of September 2 and remain closed on September 3.

The vaccination process in Tehran has also been beset by problems. On September 2 Iran Mall Vaccination Center, one of biggest and well-run hubs in the country, announced it would be closed until further notice.

President Raisi is understood to have learned about the closures of vaccination centers on September 2. Without directly addressing the issue, he stated that in order to avoid “disruptions” in the vaccination process it would be necessary to “justly” distribute the vaccine based on “established priorities”. The “disruptions” Raisi had belatedly been informed of were evident in the signs pasted to the doors of medical hubs across the country: “This center has no vaccines until further notice.”

Lack of Trust and Vaccine Hesitancy

A doctor in Iran, who asked not to be named, told IranWire they believed the chaotic switch between priority groups for Covid-19 vaccines had contributed to the current shortages. “Why has it stopped? Ask the officials. A few months from now, one of them will reveal the reason. But in the meantime what are we to do? Curse those who changed the priorities?

“General vaccination has now stopped but job-based vaccinations continue. For example, people employed by state-run radio and TV, artists, and even Irancell are still being vaccinated. There’s a shortage of vaccine but, very unjustly, those who have greater lobbying power are getting what’s available.”

A number of people aged over 50 were vaccinated in Iran before the Health Ministry made the switch to a job-based system. Meanwhile, the doctor said, “lest we forget, according to the official figures, 25 percent of those who were invited refused their vaccine. In reality we think it’s more like 40. Vaccine hesitancy has spread in Iran because people don’t trust the quality of the vials’ contents, as a result of the lack of transparency on imports, and the unknown results of domestic clinical trials for CovIran-Barekat.”

Others who expected to be inoculated early are now growing frustrated. “They said teachers have priority, all that stuff,” a teacher told IranWire. “Mr. Namaki [Saeed Namaki, Rouhani’s health minister] is no longer here to see that when I went for the second dose, they told me they didn’t have any in stock. They don’t say ‘Come tomorrow’; they just say they have none.

The journalist Hamideh Aminifar tweeted: “For my mother’s second dose we went to an emergency center. They only had enough for 300 people. Of course, the priority was those who were due to receive the second dose. But after standing for hours in the crowded line they simply announced that they had run out and we had to go back home.”

Vaccine for Hezbollah?

Age-based vaccinations have now stopped in Iran. But the Health Ministry insists the number of people being vaccinated is on the increase. This also begs the question as to whether some of those daily totals include vaccines supplied by the Islamic Republic to Hezbollah.

Last month it was reported in some Iranian media that a shipment of 30 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been sent from Iran to Venezuela, where Hezbollah has an active presence. The Red Crescent Society denied this was the case, saying it was only three million doses, not 30, and the vaccines were in transit “from China to Venezuela” and “did not belong to Iran”.  

As of now, the Red Crescent Society reports that it has delivered 20.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the Health Ministry. Iran has received another 10 million doses of vaccine through Covax and donations from Japan. So far, officials report, more than four million doses of the domestic CovIran-Barekat vaccine have also been produced.

The Health Ministry says that as of September 2, close to 28.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered in Iran. Bahram Einollahi, President Raisi’s new Health Minister, has since added that Iran needs at least 120 million doses – enough to initially protect 60 million people, or three quarters of the population –to arrive at “an acceptable level of immunity”. He claimed 40 to 50 million more doses would be imported by late October and vaccinations would be complete by late February.

Official Coronavirus Statistics

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 4,272 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending September 2. With 669 deaths, August 30 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.

Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

At the week’s end, 7,831 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing the total number of vaccine doses injected, both first and second shots, had reached 28,442,990.

Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

There are currently 306 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 110 are rated orange and 32 are yellow. No city in Iran is currently on “blue” alert.

September 3 - 9

The National Coronavirus Taskforce reports that the fifth wave of coronavirus in Iran is now on the decline. Nevertheless, the official number of daily Covid-19 fatalities is still well above 500 and hospitals across the country remain at or near capacity. Another major problem faced by some hospitals is a shortage of nurses – so acute in some areas that one nurse is reportedly on hand for every 25 people.

Meanwhile, students are expected to be required to attend school in person when the new school year begins later this month. As a result, Samieh, a nurse in Golestan province, told IranWire: “The president of our hospital has ordered the children’s ward be equipped to prepare for the reopening of schools, and the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases among schoolchildren.”

“Similar steps have been taken in other hospitals as well,” she added. “Nurses now have more experience in dealing with Covid-19 and right now, are planning to take their holiday days in coordination which each other, so that they’ll have more energy if the sixth wave arrives in late October.”

So far, Islamic Republic officials have made contradictory statements about reopening of schools. “The necessary preparations for the reopening of scientific and educational centers and schools have been made, and they will come into effect in the near future,” President Ebrahim Raisi told a meeting of the National Coronavirus Taskforce on September 9. On the same day, interim Minister of Education Alireza Kazemi said schools would indeed reopen as planned on September 23.

But also on the same day, new Health Minister Dr. Bahram Einollahi announced: “There is no insistence that schools reopen on September 23.” With less than two weeks to go until the new term starts, parents are still in the dark.

Alireza Raisi, spokesman for the National Coronavirus Taskforce, also weighed in with his own thoughts on school reopenings on September 9. By the end of the month, he predicted, 30 to 40 percent of schools would be holding in-person classes again, with others resuming normal classes later on. In another interview, he said he expected all schools to have reopened in two months.

A New Coronavirus Variant Is Looming

The Lambda coronavirus variant, first detected in Peru, has reached Qatar and Turkey and now threatens Iran, reported Dr. Mohammad Kariminia, deputy director of Biological Defense Headquarters, on September 4.

“Right now we’re losing around 600 of our countrymen every day and if Lambda enters the country the situation could deteriorate badly,” he said. The health chief, also the deputy governor of Fars province, warned that Iran had perhaps a month at most to prepare itself for this variant’s arrival: “It is predicted that by October we’ll witness a sixth wave of coronavirus, called Lambda.”

Health Minister Bahram Einollahi, however, was more optimistic, saying he believed that mass vaccinations would keep the new variant at bay. It was previously estimated that Iran needs to inoculate 60 million of its almost 83 million-strong population to achieve an acceptable level of immunity against Covid-19, meaning around 120 million doses of vaccine need to be procured and distributed. According to official figures, however, as of now only just 32 million injections have been carried out and only a little over 11 million people have received both doses.

Dr. Einollahi had previously promised all vaccionations would be complete by February 2022. Asked this week if it was not already too late with the new variant on the way, he said: “In a vaccination process that lasts a whole year, the level of immunity in someone who was inoculated at the beginning of the year will not be the same at the end. Therefore, the vaccinations must be done quickly, within three months.”

Mostafa Ghanei, chairman of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee, also said 60 million Iranians needed to be fully vaccinated within three months. “There is no scientific basis for the claim there will be no more waves of coronavirus,” he said. “On the other hand, evidence shows that if we vaccinate people, they might get infected and fall ill, but they will not die or become gravely ill.”

These highly divergent statements between officials have left many with the impression the government has no idea what will happen when autumn arrives.

“We Don’t Believe Official Promises”

“Most nurses have now experienced five coronavirus infection peaks and have unconsciously reached their own conclusions,” says Samieh, who was assigned to her hospital’s Covid-19 ward earlier this year. “They’ve seen more patients than any official or president. They have sufficient understanding of how the virus behaves. We’ve heard so many promises about vaccines that we no longer pay attention to them. Myself and colleagues are preparing ourselves for a sixth wave.”

Ever since the pandemic started, Samieh complains, officials have given priority to political issues over public health and people’s medical needs. “Every time we believed them, we were duped,” she says. “During the fifth wave, despite all the problems which are still going on, I didn’t feel a lot of pressure because I had prepared myself. I’ll take care of children and adolescents who are sick with Covid-19, and I won’t pay attention to either the minister’s or the taskforce’s nonsense.”

Samieh says at her hospital and others in Golestan, there is now just one nurse on hand for 10 Covid-19 patients. “Some patients are lying in the corridors, suffering from a lack of oxygen.”

On September 7, Hamid Reza Azizi, vice president of the Iranian Nursing Organization, had said the chronic shortage of nurses was severely weakening the health system in other parts of the country. “It is reported than in a number of cities and province one nurse tends to 25 patients,” he said. “One certain wards in Tehran, 15 patients are under the care of one nurse. This is a tragedy.” He added that the main reasons behind the staff shortages were a failure to employ and train enough new nurses, as well as retirement and medical professionals leaving Iran. The official figures state 130 nurses have lost their lives to Covid-19 in Iran, which is likely to be far shy of the real total.

Official Coronavirus Statistics

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 3,947 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending September 9. With 635 deaths, September 7 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.


Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

At the week’s end, 7,486 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing the total number of vaccine doses injected, both first and second shots, had reached 32,409,627.


Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

There are currently 246 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 144 are rated orange and 58 are yellow. No city in Iran is currently on “blue” alert.

September 10 – 16

The vaccination process in Iran has picked up speed in recent weeks and the Islamic Republic has belatedly managed to acquire half the necessary vaccine doses needed for the general population. But anti-vaxxers have simultaneously taken to the streets to push back against “compulsory” vaccination. Amid ongoing propaganda for “traditional” and “Islamic” cures for Covid-19 since the pandemic started, it is possible these protests will present yet another stumbling block for Iran’s urgently-needed widespread vaccination drive.

Across the world, such protesters are generally known as anti-vaxxers – but in Iran, their case against innoculation goes back to religion. Earlier, promoters of so-called “Islamic medicine” had prescribed outlandish cures for Covid-19 such as violet oil applied to the anus and camel’s urine, and insisted that Shia saints would protect people from harm.

On September 12, 2021, a group of Iranians opposed to mandatory vaccination staged a protest in front of the Interior Ministry in Tehran. Protestors carried homemade placards saying “No compulsory vaccination” and also “No to domestic vaccines, no to foreign vaccines! We have the vaccine of Imam Kazem!". Imam Kazem was the seventh Shia Imam – also known as a provider of cures. In Shia mythology the faithful can entreat Imam Kazem for a cure, and he will provide it.

Some Iranian media outlets supported the protesters. One of the most important among them was Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards. According to Fars, anti-vaxxers had gathered 51,000 signatures on a petition to ban compulsory general vaccination for reasons such as a “lack of necessary permits and standards for vaccines”, “short-term or long-term complications” and the availability of “other” cures for this plague.

A cleric by the name of Ahmad Panahian further claimed: “The vaccine is a conspiracy by Bill Gates to reduce the world population by 15 percent.” This “imported” conspiracy theory is not new to Iran. In December 2020, Zahra Sheikhi, a female parliamentarian, claimed the same thing and IranWire has previously fact-checked and debunked this claim.

In response, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) published an article defending the government vaccination policy. Titled “Playing with People’s Lives,” it said that “the phenomenon of vaccination-phobia has spread among some religious or ignorant people in various countries.”

Even the National Coronavirus Taskforce was forced to join the fray. Alireza Raeesi, spokesman for the task force, emphasized that vaccination has nothing to do with religion because many religious authorities have been vaccinated even though some people who are anti-vaxxers want to make a religious issue out of it. He pointed out that Iranians are generally eager to get vaccinated because they are willing to stand in line for vaccination even for hours.

There have also been anti-vaxxer rallies before. In early January 2021, when Rouhani’s government announced that it was going to import around 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccine, a small group gathered outside the Health Ministry building in Tehran to protest the decision. They chanted slogans such as “No to domestic vaccine, no to foreign vaccine,” “we have our own Imam Kazem’s cure” and “banish the World Health Organization from decision-making in Iran”.

Later, it turned out that this protest was organized through a Telegram channel named “Anti-Vax” that had promised the would-be protestors both free transportation and free breakfast. It is unclear who organized the protest.

Anti-vaxxers can be found around the world. But they usually come out in force when at least half of the target population has been vaccinated. In Iran, however, not even 15 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

IranWire asked Dr. Hamid Reza Jamshidi, secretary of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, how these followers of so-called “Islamic-traditional” medicine may affect the vaccination process in Iran. “Anti-vaxxers in Iran are less than 10 or 15 percent [of the population] and it is unlikely that they can disrupt the vaccination process,” he said. “To be sure, there are people who will not get the vaccine because they do not want to, but in Iran their number is at a minimum.”

But what can be done to encourage people to be vaccinated, considering that at some point in some countries, such as the US, the willingness of people to get vaccinated has diminished?

“The best way to encourage people is to publish statistics so that people will learn that the number of fatalities falls with more vaccinations,” said Dr. Jamshidi. “This is effective way. And you cannot compare Iranians to Americans because, for our people, health is very important.”

Over-18s Vaccination Starts

Registration for the vaccination of young Iranians over the age of 18 has, meanwhile, started in a number of provinces. Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, Tehran’s provincial governor, said that more than 10 million Tehran province residents are over 18 and that their vaccination would start on September 21. He claimed that within 10 days the whole target population would receive the first dose.

Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, however, believes that the necessary facilities to inoculate all over 18s in Tehran within 10 days are not available. What is needed to speed up the process, he said, includes opening more vaccination centers, reactivating inactive centers, increasing the number of work shifts to two or three, and utilizing empty facilities in hospitals.

Iran Has Half the Covid-19 Vaccine Doses it Needs

Fewer than a million doses of coronavirus vaccine are being administered each day across Iran. But last week Iran also topped the list of countries vaccinating the highest number of people in one week. Given that many countries, including others in the region, started vaccinating their citizens several months ago, the Islamic Republic has won a contest without few other contestants.

Iran’s Customs Administration has announced that as of September 17, 58,323,606 doses of coronavirus vaccine doses had been imported through customs. Fifty-four percent of this was imported in just the past month – playing an important role in increasing the pace of vaccination across the country.

Fully vaccinating 60 million Iranians over the age of 18 requires 120 million doses. According to the Health Ministry, as of last week over 41 million doses had been administered, including to 13,459,625 people who have now received both doses of vaccine. A sizeable number of Iranians are therefore still at risk of succumbing to Covid-19.

Official Coronavirus Statistics

Official figures indicate that the fifth wave of the pandemic is in decline. But the daily number of Covid-19 fatalities is still over 400 and health experts have warned that a sixth wave is possible.

Health experts have also again disputed the official fatality figures. Last week, Masoud Pezeshkian, a member Iran’s parliamentary health committee, claimed the actual figure of daily fatalities is more like 1,500, not 400. And on September 14, a group of doctors criticized the Ministry of Health's policy in presenting data to the public regarding Covid-19. "It is as if they do not care about people dying,” they said.

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 3,137 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending September 16. With 487 deaths, September 12 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.

Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

At the week’s end, 6,981 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing the total number of vaccine doses injected, both first and second shots, had reached 41,250,460.

Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

There are currently 168 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 209 are rated orange and 71 are yellow. No city in Iran is currently on “blue” alert.

September 17 - 23

Iran’s vaccination drive against coronavirus has picked up speed over the past month. Last week, the Health Ministry also began to inoculate young Iranian citizens aged 12 to 18, at the same time as the “fifth wave” of infections was said to be subsiding.

Nevertheless Dr. Shervin Shokouhi, head of the infectious diseases department at Loghman Hakim Hospital in Tehran, told IranWire that the risks were still high. As such, he said, “Given that the vaccination of older people is now on track, I see no reason not to vaccinate children too. On average every family is in close contact with at least one child and the child’s chance of becoming a vector for transmission is high.”

A large proportion of the vaccines delivered in Iran have been the Chinese-made Sinopharm, which has not yet been authorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) for minors. According to the WHO, so far only Pfizer has been cleared for use in under-18s. But Dr. Shokouhi dismissed this: “The vaccine has been approved for use in China, and Iran has also taken the necessary steps to use it.”

Earlier Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, president of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, had announced that vaccines made by Sinopharm and Iran’s Pasteur Institute had been licensed for children aged under 18. It came even though not all adults in Iran have yet been fully protected from severe Covid-19.

On September 21, Health Minister Bahram Einollahi claimed that more than 50 percent of Iranians have been vaccinated. He went on to predict that within two or three weeks, 70 percent of the population would be fully inoculated. But according the Health Ministry’s own Information Center, as of September 21 a total of 48,281,975 doses of vaccine had been administered in Iran. Less than 15 million of the recipients had had two doses. Given that there are 60 million Iranians aged over 18, it is not clear how the health minister arrived at the figure he announced.

In Turkey, a neighboring country with a population close to that of Iran, more than 106 million doses of vaccine have now been administered. More than 85 percent of Turks over 18 have received their first dose, and around 70 percent have had both. Unlike Iran, where inoculation of youngsters appears to be starting prematurely and with Sinopharm, Turkey has also mostly been using Pfizer-BioNTech.

The latter country was able to safely reopen schools on September 6 this year, because of the large proportion of the population covered by vaccines. Some believe the Islamic Republic’s decision to start inoculating young people – instead of prioritizing the more Covid-vulnerable adult population – is part of a bid to do the same, although the health minister has denied any such aim.

Alireza Kazemi, the acting Minister of Education, has said the reopening of schools and the start of in-person classes in Iran will take place in three phases. Rural and informal school settings with less than 15 pupils will reopen by October 7, small schools with less than 300 pupils by October 23, urban schools with less than 300 students until November 6, and lastly major urban schools with 300 pupils or more.  

“I believe that vaccinating children is very likely to reduce infections and fatalities among the adults,” Dr. Shokouhi said of the plan. “Note that there is no fundamental difference between a young person of 20 and a 15-year-old teenager. Both need to be vaccinated.”

The vaccination of under-18s has got under way in a number of other countries, including the US, Denmark, Spain, France, the UK and Sweden. But only China and the United Arab Emirates have been using Sinopharm for this purpose.

Dr. Payam Tabarsi, head of the infectious diseases ward at Tehran’s Masih Daneshvari Hospital, has since added that children aged over seven will be next to be vaccinated, again using Sinopharm. If this happens imminently, Iran will be the only country in the world outside of China to be doing so.

Is a Sixth Wave on the Way?

Pictures posted online show comparatively less crowded wards in hospitals across Iran. Some health professionals have hailed this as a sign that the “fifth wave” of Covid-19 cases is on the decline. Dr. Shokouhi, however, is of a different opinion.

“The sixth coronavirus wave will start long before October or November,” he told IranWire. “We’re still not over the fifth. The numbers of hospitalizations and fatalities have fallen, but they’re still very high. Look at the curve of this surge: it was much steeper and wider than the previous ones. The reason for that is the Delta variant that is highly infectious, while people have been paying no attention to health protocols.”

According to the Health Ministry, compliance with the regulations including mask-wearing and social distancing has now fallen to 41 percent nationwide. “Field observations show that compliance with health protocols has fallen and many people do not wear masks in public,” Dr. Shokouhi said. “We’ve repeatedly emphasized that vaccination does not mean masks and social distancing are no longer needed. But unfortunately, a lot of places like cinemas are open, and travel and gatherings and continue. I personally know of many infected people who boarded planes.

“We must not underestimate the current situation, which is very fragile. We are still riding the peak even though the situation has improved.”

Low Vaccine Efficacy during Coronavirus Peak

Iran’s domestic vaccination drive got off to a slow start for several reasons: Ayatollah Khamenei’s ban on importing American and British-made products, allegedly broken promises  by Russia and China over contracts, and the health ministry’s reluctance to import foreign vaccines in favor of supporting domestically-made ones. According to Health Minister Bahram Einollahi, by July 22 just five million doses of vaccine had been administered in Iran. In the two months since then, more than 43 million doses were delivered.

Once a vaccine is injected, it can take up to two weeks to take effect. This means that Iranians who received a first dose during the fifth wave remained vulnerable to severe Covid-19. “Many people in Iran received their first dose during the fifth peak,” Dr. Shokouhi said. “Every day I have a lot of patients who’d been infected after receiving the first dose.

“The first dose by itself does not provide the necessary immunity. To reach 70 percent immunity in Iran, something like 60 million people must be vaccinated. The figure show that around 20 to 25 million people were vaccinated during the fifth peak. Even if half or even 40 percent of this number got infected, it means vaccination hasn’t provided the necessary coverage.” The process, he emphasized, must now continue at pace.

Official Coronavirus Statistics

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 2,436 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending September 23. With 391 deaths, September 19 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.

Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

At the week’s end, 6,586 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing the total number of vaccine doses injected, both first and second shots, had reached 48,281,975.


Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

There are currently 57 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 238 are rated orange and 136 are yellow. Currently only 17 cities in Iran are on “blue” alert.

September 24 - 30

As of Thursday, September 30, close to 55 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been administered in Iran. The government now promises that by mid-November 2021, some 70 percent of Iranians will be fully vaccinated – despite the fact that the focus recently switched to vaccinating children, and larger groups of “anti-vaxxers” are now gaining momentum in Iran.

The latter have been protesting anew because, since the pace of vaccination in Iran picked up, the Health Ministry has been promoting the idea of a “smart quarantine”. As Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi explained this week, this will see the reopening of public spaces only apply to those who have been vaccinated. Vahidi said that he hoped that by lifting the restrictions, life and business could resume, alleviating Iran’s economic problems.

The project that has been approved by the National Coronavirus Taskforce and is due to be implemented by mid-October. It will begin in Qazvin province on a trial basis, and then be rolled out across the rest of the country if successful.

Mostafa Ghanei, a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce and secretary of the Presidential Biotechnology Development Council, has said a new IT system has been created to oversee the program by tracking movements in, out and through the country.

The Health Ministry has further announced that vaccinated people can go to a newly-created government website to receive, at no cost, a “digital vaccination certificate” in Persian or in English. The English version can be used for traveling outside Iran.

Health Minister Bahram Einollahi added: “Whoever gets vaccinated can apply to the Health Ministry to get a QR code [barcode] that will allow them to do many things. Also in Mashhad, going to hotels, pilgrimages to the holy shrine of Imam Reza and air travel will be allowed within the framework of smart quarantine.” He added that once the program is implemented and more people have had the jab, “social distancing on public transport – including planes – will be lifted.”

Widespread Resistance to "Smart Quarantine" Program

Dr. Hamid Soori, a professor of epidemiology at Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, has said that a total quarantine of the country would cost Iran’s economy seven trillion tomans, or close to $1.68 billion.

But news of the “smart quarantine” project has nevertheless been divisive. Among its critics are Iranian anti-vaxxers, who have taken to social media to announce their opposition to “smart quarantine”, which they say is to force people to get vaccinated. Using the hashtags “No to Smart Quarantine” and “No to Forced Vaccination”, they called on the Health Ministry to put a stop to the project.

But opposition to the program is much more widespread than that. In a letter to the Health Minister, Dr. Alireza Marandi, Ayatollah Khamenei’s personal physician and the president of the Iranian Academy of Medical Sciences, criticized Einollahi, writing that he must not “oversimplify” matters by promising “a celebration after the victory of vaccination” that would only lead to future disillusionment.

Dr. Marandi also pointed out that even countries where 80 percent of the population has received two Covid-19 jabs “still continue [to impose] restrictions such as closing their borders and a two-week quarantine for those who enter the country.” Promising unrestricted travel after 70 percent of the population is protected, he said, would encourage negligence and fresh waves of coronavirus infections.

In response to the letter, the Health Ministry’s PR department said that what Einollahi had meant was a “celebration for speeding up vaccination”, not a celebration to mark the end of coronavirus.

Pfizer Rollout in Iran “Canceled” Again

Back when Ayatollah Khamenei banned importing American and British-made Covid-19 vaccines, both Alireza Marandi and Bahram Einollahi were among those who supported the Supreme Leader’s order.

Since Ebrahim Raisi became president, however, the executive’s tune seems to have changed. On September 23, Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi announced that the National Coronavirus Taskforce had agreed to import the Pfizer vaccine. Iran, he said, “has placed an order for 2.4 million doses of Pfizer, and the purchase of five million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been finalized as well.”

The plan was to procure the new batch of vaccines from Belgium. “These vaccines will be used to inoculate pregnant women and, if the imported doses are sufficient, as booster shots for health workers,” he said.

But then, on September 28, Health Ministry announced that the plan to import the Pfizer vaccine had been “canceled” and the National Coronavirus Taskforce had instead concluded that the inoculation of pregnant women could continue with Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine.

In a report on September 30, the newspaper Hamshahri, which is published by Tehran Municipality, listed the reasons for the cancellation. They included the high cost, what was referred to as “transportation problems”, “opposition from the National Vaccination Council” and “controversy after it was announced that Pfizer would be imported.”

The controversy referred to here was probably that provoked by Fars News Agency, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards. After the Health Ministry’s announcement, an article in Fars demanded to know: “Why must our pregnant women be injected with the Pfizer vaccine? Has this vaccine been tested on pregnant women and expectant mothers in other countries, or is Iran one of the first where future mothers are put in harm’s way?”

Fars has also previously thrown its weight behind the anti-vaxxers’ protests. It seems to be having an impact: according to the latest statistics, more than 14 percent of Iranian adults are still reluctant to get vaccinated.

Official Coronavirus Statistics

The fifth surge of coronavirus might have slowed down across Iran, but the three western provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan and Kermanshah are still struggling to contain new infections. Currently, 16 cities in Iran are on red alert for transmission, all of which are located in these three province.

The latest official figures from the Health Ministry state that by September 30, a little over 120,000 Iranians had died from Covid-19. But statistics published by Iran’s National Organization for Civil Registration indicate that from winter 2019 to summer 2021, the number of “excess deaths” in Iran – the number of deaths above the expected norm for a given period – stood at 257,000. Not all of these deaths will be attributable to Covid-19, but many of them will be.

The Health Ministry’s weekly statistics state that a total of 1,920 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending September 30. With 289 deaths, September 27 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.


Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

At the week’s end, 5,093 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing the total number of vaccine doses injected, both first and second shots, had reached 54,981,441.


Coronavirus Pandemic: An Iranian Chronology, September 2021

There are currently 16 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 198 are rated orange and 176 are yellow. Currently 58 cities in Iran are on “blue” alert.

This article is part of IranWire’s coronavirus chronology. Read the full chronology



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