The U.S. is about to launch one of the most daunting public-health efforts in generations: swiftly distributing a Covid-19 vaccine across all 50 states, each of which will determine who gets priority.
As soon as this weekend, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to grant emergency approval to a Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. PFE 3.18% and BioNTech SE. BNTX 1.92% Within 24 hours, 6.4 million doses are set to be sent to every state and the District of Columbia. For most, that initial shipment will be enough to inoculate a little under 1% of their populations.
TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that U.S. sanctions are making it difficult for Iran to purchase medicine and health supplies from abroad, including COVID-19 vaccines needed to contain the worst outbreak in the Middle East.
President Donald Trump's administration has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran's banking sector and its vital oil and gas industry since unilaterally withdrawing the U.S. from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.
While the United States insists that medicines and humanitarian goods are exempt from sanctions, restrictions on trade have made many banks and companies across the world hesitant to do business with Iran, fearing punitive measures from Washington. The country is also cut off from the international banking system, making it difficult to transfer payments.
“Our people should know that for any action we plan to carry out for importing medicine, vaccines and equipment, we should curse Trump a hundred times," Rouhani was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
He said even simple transactions to purchase medicine from other countries had become extremely difficult and that it can take “weeks” to transfer funds.
Rouhani said authorities are nevertheless doing what they can to buy vaccines from abroad, hoping to deliver them to high-risk individuals as soon as possible.
Last week, Iran said it is working on its own vaccine, with testing on human patients expected to begin next month. It plans to buy 20 million vaccine doses from abroad, for a population of more than 80 million people.
Iran has reported more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus out of more than a million confirmed cases — the worst outbreak in the Middle East.
Authorities have been reluctant to impose the kind of lockdown measures seen elsewhere in the region, partly because of concerns it would further exacerbate an already dire economic crisis. The sanctions have contributed to a plunge in the country's currency in recent years that has caused the price of basic goods to soar and wiped out many Iranians' life savings.
90-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive a fully vetted Covid-19 vaccine, as the UK began its rollout on Tuesday.
"But unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for Covid-19 for years to come," she added.
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom became the first nation to start vaccinating its citizens with a fully vetted and authorized Covid-19 shot, marking a major milestone in a pandemic that brought the world to a standstill.
But 96% of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses that Britain has started administering have been bought by rich countries, the People's Vaccine Alliance said. Similarly, every one of Moderna's doses -- another leading candidate whose trials have demonstrated a high rate of efficacy -- have been acquired by wealthy countries.
In Canada, enough doses have been purchased to immunize citizens five times over if all the leading vaccines are approved, the group said.
'We're injecting hope'
'We're injecting hope'
Those prospects stand in stark contrast to the situation in the developing world.
In particular, the group identified 67 countries most at risk of being shut off from the pathway out of the pandemic. Five of them -- Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ukraine -- have reported more than 1.5 million combined cases.
"The hoarding of vaccines actively undermines global efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere can be protected from Covid-19," said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International's Head of Economic and Social Justice. "By buying up the vast majority of the world's vaccine supply, rich countries are in breach of their human rights obligations."
At least 172 countries have or are considering participating in COVAX, an initiative led by the World Health Organization that aims to provide worldwide access to effective Covid-19 vaccines, according to the body.
But a study by Duke University's Global Health Institute last month found that only 250 million doses have been confirmed as purchased under the scheme.
The US Food and Drug Administration will meet Thursday to consider granting emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in the United States. If approved, the country could join the UK in administering doses in the coming days.
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