Iran approves U.S. firm J&J's shot as it fights fifth COVID wave

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[September 17, 2021]  (Reuters) -Iran’s new government has approved use of U.S. firm Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, a senior official said on Thursday, as the Islamic Republic fights a fifth wave of infections.

The announcement came eight months after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned imports of vaccines made by the United States and Britain - though Iran has since accepted vaccines developed by Western firms but manufactured elsewhere.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s administration is under public pressure to broaden its sources of vaccines as infections mount in its deadliest wave yet.

“The Johnson & Johnson single-dose corona vaccine has been approved,” the head of Iran's Food and Drug Administration, Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

He did not say where the vaccine would be produced or refer to the ban.

In January, Khamenei banned the government from importing COVID-19 vaccines from United States and Britain, saying both countries were "untrustworthy”. He later said the ban was on vaccines made in those countries.

On Thursday, Shanehsaz said Russia’s single-component Sputnik Light vaccine had also been approved.

"Fortunately, the basket of the CORONA vaccines registered in Iran has become very diverse and large,” he added.

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Iran is trying to speed up vaccinations by using imported doses - including Sputnik V, India’s Covaxin made by Bharat Biotech, and the British-developed Oxford/AstraZeneca shot produced by Russia’s R-Pharm group and AstraZeneca-SKBio in South Korea. Iran also uses its own COVIran Barakat shot.

The health ministry says 13 million out of a population of 83 million have been fully inoculated.

Health Minister Bahram Einollahi said on Thursday that Iran had vaccinated 7.9 million people over the past week, state media reported.

The ministry on Thursday reported 18,021 new infections in the past 24 hours, bringing total cases to 5,378,408 in Iran, the worst hit country in the Middle East. There were 6,981 acute cases and deaths rose by 453 over the same period to 116,072.

(; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Macfie)

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