Iran Finds Loophole to Vaccine Ban in Astra’s Swedish Roots

(Bloomberg) -- Iran’s first batch of imported coronavirus vaccines could be sourced from U.K.-based AstraZeneca Plc, the country’s top epidemiologist said, working around a ban the country’s Supreme Leader placed on jabs from the U.S. and Britain earlier this month.

“The Ministry of Health is pursuing imports of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Sweden,” the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Minoo Mohraz, a member of the country’s coronavirus taskforce, as saying, adding that the shots could arrive within weeks.

Mohraz described AstraZeneca as a “Swedish company”, in an apparent effort to distance the pharmaceutical giant from the scope of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Jan. 8 ban.

AstraZeneca emerged from the 1999 merger of Sweden’s Astra AB and Britain’s Zeneca Group. Today, it has its headquarters in the U.K. and its shares are listed in London, Stockholm and New York. Its coronavirus vaccine was developed with Oxford University in the U.K.

AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment on the reports.

Iran is also considering vaccines from India and an Iranian-made vaccine is due to be ready for public use by summer, Mohraz said. India’s Serum Institute of India Ltd, the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, also has an agreement with AstraZeneca to roll out at least one billion doses of its shot.

The Islamic Republic has suffered the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East but hasn’t started vaccinations, blaming U.S. sanctions for delaying procurement efforts.