(Adds weekly vaccinations, reaches 7.9 million)
Sept. 16 (Reuters) – The new Iranian government has approved the use of the US firm Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, a senior official said Thursday as the Islamic Republic battles a fifth wave of infections.
The announcement came eight months after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned imports of vaccines from the United States and Britain – although Iran has since accepted vaccines developed by Western companies but manufactured elsewhere.
President Ebrahim Raisi’s government is under public pressure to expand its vaccine sources as infections rise in their deadliest wave yet.
“The single-dose corona vaccine from Johnson & Johnson has been approved,” the head of the Iranian Food and Drug Administration, Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, was quoted as saying by the Iranian media.
He did not say where the vaccine would be made or refer to the ban.
In January, Khamenei banned the government from importing COVID-19 vaccines from the US and the UK, saying both countries are “untrustworthy”. He later said the ban affected vaccines made in those countries.
On Thursday, Shanehsaz said Russia’s single-component vaccine Sputnik Light has also been approved.
“Fortunately, the basket of CORONA vaccines registered in Iran has become very diverse and large,” he added.
Iran is trying to speed up vaccinations by using imported doses – including Sputnik V, India’s Covaxin from Bharat Biotech, and the UK-developed Oxford / AstraZeneca shot by Russian R-Pharm group and AstraZeneca-SKBio in South Korea is produced. Iran is also using its own COVIran barakat shot.
The Ministry of Health says 13 million out of 83 million residents are fully vaccinated.
Health Minister Bahram Einollahi said Thursday that Iran vaccinated 7.9 million people in the past week, state media reported.
The ministry reported 18,021 new infections in the past 24 hours on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to 5,378,408 in Iran, the Middle East’s hardest hit country. There were 6,981 acute cases and deaths rose 453 to 116,072 over the same period. ([email protected]; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Macfie)