Pressure on Iranian health minister mounts amid the personal vaccine saga


A number of lawmakers in the conservative Iranian parliament are driving impeachment proceedings against the country’s health minister. This is the first such attempt against the government of radical President Ebrahim Raisi.

During an open session on Jan. 11, the impeachment architect, Kamal Hosseinpour, criticized the Minister of Health’s personal preference for the COVID-19 vaccination and his decision to take an imported dose instead of an Iranian one.

“That is inappropriate and [reveals] a serious mistake, “said the legislature.

Earlier this month, Minister of Health Bahram Einollahi proudly declared, “Many of the cabinet members who initiated myself have received the domestic vaccines.” The minister made the remarks at a ceremony opening the clinical research phase of one of five Iranian vaccines.

The claim, however, was seriously challenged a week later, as a picture by the minister’s vaccination certificate went viral, bearing his identity information, and stating that he had been vaccinated with the imported Russian Sputnik vaccine.

Health Department officials rushed to quell the public anger that flared up. Although they did not question the authenticity of the certificate, the officials threatened legal action against “a doctor” who “Data protection laws violated“by the leakage of the document.

And that of the Ministry Head of Public Relations said Einollahi had received both Iranian and Russian taunts and described the controversy as “a targeted foreign media campaign designed to tarnish public confidence”.

The introduction of Iran has been facing an uphill battle since the world began adopting vaccination programs more than a year ago. Last January, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned imports of American and British vaccines, binding the government of moderate former President Hassan Rouhani.

With Raisi’s inauguration, the rollout, which was sluggish due to strong import restrictions, accelerated suddenly.

Meanwhile, government officials including the Minister of Health have been promoting several indigenous vaccines. But on Iran’s social media platforms, the leaked document was interpreted as proof of the “lie” of the minster and fueled anger among citizens who were relentlessly urged to roll up their sleeves on national vaccines.

When the impeachment procedure was discussed in Parliament, Minister of Health gave a boastful speech elsewhere in Tehran and chose not to address the scandal.

Instead, he announced a milestone in the country’s “historic” vaccination program, which has covered “up to 90% of Iranians with at least one dose,” while 79% are also registered as double vaccinations. And all of this, he declared, was achieved “despite unjust sanctions” and marks “the absolute defeat of the enemy in his sanctions regime”.

Given the close convergence between the Raisi government and parliament, already filled with its loyalists, it is not immediately clear how long the impeachment process could go. But it would be a rare challenge against the hardliner cabinet and could hurt vaccination progress, which the government is passionately proud of.

“We are not disclosing the names of the parliamentary colleagues who have already signed the impeachment procedure.” said the legislature behind the motionbecause he feared that “certain people” in Raisi government circles “will not waste time lobbying to get lawmakers to withdraw their signatures.”


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