Thousands of Iranians frustrated by the government’s chaotic vaccine rollout and desperate for protection after enduring wave after wave of coronavirus are flocking by air and land to neighboring Armenia to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Iran is suffering a fifth wave of the pandemic, with Tehran and 143 cities declared high-risk “red” zones and the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus spreading rapidly. Over the past two weeks, the average number of daily cases in Iran has increased 62%, to more than 16,000, according to a New York Times database.
Only about 2 percent of the 84 million Iranians have been fully immunized, according to the Our world in data project at the University of Oxford. With vaccines made in the US and UK being banned by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top leader, the country is awaiting shipments of vaccines made by China and Russia.
Across the border in Armenia, a country of three million people, there are more doses of the vaccine than people willing to take them, in large part because of widespread conspiracy theories and misinformation. . Officials announced in May that they would provide free vaccines to foreigners without registration. Mobile clinics have been set up in the streets to make them easily accessible to tourists and visitors. Iranians do not need a visa to travel to Armenia, and the journey from the border to the capital, Yerevan, takes around seven hours.
Based on Iran’s vaccine eligibility table, Parvin Chamanpira, 53, and her husband calculated that it would take them months to qualify. So they traveled from Tehran to Yerevan last week and received their injections from an ambulance parked by the roadside. She said it took about five minutes, requiring only a blood pressure check and no paperwork. They will be back in a few weeks for their second shots.
“It is not an ideal choice for Iranians to be forced to travel, spend a lot of money and be stressed to get vaccinated,” Ms. Chamanpira said. “We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have to.”
Armenian officials did not say how many foreign nationals have been vaccinated, but the number of flights between Tehran and Yerevan has been increased to meet demand. Tickets are sold until the end of August, travel agents said. Bus tours focusing on vaccinations are also booked. Some Iranians charter their own buses and vans or drive their own cars across the border, according to several people organizing the trips.
In a social media group dedicated to planning vaccination trips to Armenia, Iranians at the border posted videos on Friday showing lines of cars and people stretching for miles, claiming the wait was to at least 13 hours.
Among ordinary Iranians and medical workers facing the increasing number of cases, anger against the government is mounting. Some prominent doctors have called for the Minister of Health to be prosecuted for his mismanagement of the pandemic and the deployment of the vaccine.
“Our only weapon is the immediate and rapid vaccination of the public,” Dr Saeedreza Mehrpour, head of Tehran’s Shariati Hospital, said Thursday on his Instagram page, criticizing the country’s leaders for pushing the provocative ideology to the fore. above public health. “I wish we had a better relationship with the worlds.”
President Hassan Rouhani said this month that Iran would expand its vaccine distribution efforts in the coming weeks by importing more foreign vaccines and producing domestic vaccines. So far, he has received more than 2.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through Covax, the global vaccine sharing program.
Meanwhile, Iranians seeking to get vaccinated have been largely on their own, including those from high-risk groups. Fahimeh Hosseini, 72, a retired banker, said she recently waited four hours with dozens of other elderly people outside a Tehran clinic for a second dose of the vaccine, only to be told he did not there were more. The clinic told them that appointments for a second dose could not be scheduled because there was no way to predict when the vaccine would be in stock.
“They told us to come back until you are lucky,” she said.
The lack of vaccines has led some Iranians to turn to the black market. A 37-year-old official from a trading company, who refused to use his name because he had acted illegally, said he was told he was buying the AstraZeneca vaccine but had no way to find out if this was true.
Iran’s intelligence ministry announced this week that it had made arrests among several networks illegally selling and distributing Covid vaccines.