TEHRAN -- Iran, which has one of the highest death tolls and numbers of infections related to COVID-19 in the world, expressed skepticism Tuesday (August 18) about the Kremlin's claims to have produced a safe coronavirus vaccine.
The Russian regime said on August 11 that it had developed the world's first vaccine offering "sustainable immunity" against COVID-19 and was in the final stage of human trials.
Health scientists and medical analysts around the world sounded the alarm about these claims, with many suggesting the unproven, untested drug may be in fact more dangerous than COVID-19.
Iran has struggled to contain the Middle East's worst outbreak of the virus since announcing its first cases in February, but the crisis has not compelled its leaders to endanger Iranians by testing a rushed vaccine.
"We are waiting for the international community, including the World Health Organization, (before) we buy the vaccine from Russia," said Alireza Zali, a member of Iran's anti-COVID-19 taskforce.
"In order for the vaccine to be used, genuine and independent organisations such as the World Health Organization must comment on it and approve it, which has not happened yet," he told a news conference in Tehran.
The state-run Gamaleya institute, which produced the Russian vaccine, came under fire after researchers and its director injected themselves with the prototype several months ago, with specialists criticising the move as an unorthodox and rushed way of starting human trials.
Observers have previously raised concerns that Russian researchers cut corners and came under pressure from authorities to deliver.
"The collateral damage from release of any vaccine that was less than safe and effective could exacerbate our current problems insurmountably," said Danny Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College London.
The Kremlin has a number of reasons to risk pushing out a dangerous or ineffective "vaccine" in an effort to be first.
President Vladimir Putin's popularity in Russia has plummeted in recent years because of the ongoing collapse of its economy and his missteps on the world stage. Claims to have the much coveted vaccine may represent Putin's latest political stunt, say observers.