Status: 07/16/2021 4:43 a.m.

Iran is in the middle of the fifth wave of the pandemic – and less than three percent of Iranians are fully vaccinated. Those who can afford it look for alternatives in the neighboring country.

From Katharina Willinger,
ARD Istanbul

Two weeks ago Reza set out on a road trip that he will remember for a long time. The 36-year-old architect from Tehran went to neighboring Armenia with two friends to get vaccinated against Covid. “The preparations were very easy, everything only took one day, and then we’re off,” he says. “We were on the road for two days until we arrived in Yerevan.” The border between the two countries has been open again for about a month. Iranians do not need a visa.

Katharina Willinger
ARD-Studio Istanbul

In the Armenian capital, he went to a mobile vaccination center – a converted ambulance, says Reza. The queue was full of Iranians. In the past week, around 400 Iranians are said to have traveled to Armenia a day, reports an Iranian daily. “Like the rest of the world, we want to return to normal a little,” explains Reza. “But it seems our state cares more about the political power struggle than about the vaccinations.”

They all want to be vaccinated in the mobile vaccination center in Erwian – and many of those waiting are Iranians.

Build: AP

Delays with consequences

The 35-year-old restaurant owner Elnaz also decided to vaccinate in the neighboring country and is annoyed at the slow pace at home: “The acceleration of vaccinations in other countries has led to their economies growing again. My business, however, is currently due new restrictions closed and 35 of my employees are currently unemployed, “she complains.

The Islamic Republic’s vaccination campaign is progressing slowly. By the middle of the week, only about 2.2 million Iranians had been fully vaccinated, which corresponds to just 2.6 percent of the total population. Around six percent received the first dose. The vaccinations have so far been limited to citizens over 65 years of age and medical staff. Many Iranians accuse the government of gross failure in corona management. Vaccines were ordered too late, and some western ones, such as Moderna or BioNTech, were completely rejected in advance by the religious leader.

Instead, the government set up its own vaccine early on and commissioned numerous research projects. One of them has now received an emergency approval, there is no independent knowledge about its effectiveness. So far, Iran has mainly been vaccinating with the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm and the Russian Sputnik V. According to the government, AstraZeneca will be imported from Japan in the coming days.

The next wave is here

At the same time, the corona situation in Iran is spiraling out of control again. We are talking about the fifth wave, the delta variant is said to have arrived in most parts of the country, around 170 cities and provinces are classified as red – i.e. areas with a very high incidence. Most recently, the number of new infections rose to more than 23,000 per day, according to the Iranian Ministry of Health, and 184 people died. According to eyewitnesses, hospitals in the capital Tehran are at their limit.

Architect Reza didn’t want to wait any longer. He has now received the first dose of AstraZeneca in Armenia, and in a few weeks he wants to go back for the second dose. “Our government promises people that we will soon be producing enough vaccine ourselves, but nobody believes the state,” he said. “Everyone has to take care of themselves; everyone who can.” The vaccination did not cost him anything, but he paid the equivalent of 500 euros for travel, hotel and food. Almost four times the Iranian minimum wage. Therefore, only high earners can afford the vaccination trip to the neighboring country.

The 43-year-old Nahid is also surrounded by many people at work: she works as a costume designer, the actors often do not wear a mask. When she heard about the possibility of vaccination in Armenia, her decision to go there was made very quickly – but she has mixed feelings. “The last thing that rulers in Iran think about is the well-being of the people,” she says. “I was really happy about the vaccination in Armenia, but at the same time I feel very sad and angry because most of my compatriots cannot afford it and will probably have to wait a long time for the vaccination.”

If you have a passport and enough money for the trip, you can also come to Armenia as an Iranian – the vaccination itself is free there.

Build: AP