DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran on Tuesday launched human trials of its third domestic COVID-19 vaccine candidate, as authorities banned travel to 40 cities and towns during the Iranian New Year holidays.
Iran, a coronavirus epicenter in the Middle East, is developing several vaccines, including one in cooperation with Cuba, to help it fight the pandemic despite U.S. sanctions interfering with its ability to import vaccines.
The new vaccine has been named Fakhra in honour of assassinated nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who headed a Defence Ministry research body which helped develop the drug, according to state media.
A son of Fakhrizadeh received the first jab of the Fakhra vaccine in a ceremony on Tuesday which was carried live on state TV.
Authorities have banned travel to and from nine "red" (high risk) cities in the southwest and 31 "orange" (medium high risk) cities and towns across the country during the two-week New Year holiday period starting on Friday.
To discourage gatherings, a night driving curfew will continue to be imposed on private cars in most cities across the country of 83 million, which has had nearly 1.8 million COVID 19 cases and more than 61,400 deaths.
COVIran Barakat and Razi CovPars are other locally developed vaccines which are in clinical trials, and Soberana-02 is being jointly produced with Cuba. Several other Iranian vaccines are in earlier stages of development.
Iran, the Middle East country worst-hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic, complains that its ability to buy vaccines is hampered by U.S. sanctions, reimposed after Washington abandoned a 2015 nuclear agreement. Food and medicine are exempt from the sanctions, but banks have been discouraged from financing Iranian deals.
Iran says it has received more than 400,000 of the 2 million Sputnik V vaccines on order from Russia, and still awaits the delivery of 4.2 AstraZeneca vaccines. Tehran says it has received 250,000 doses of China's Sinopharm vaccine and part of an order of 500,000 doses of India's COVAXIN.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, editing by Ed Osmond)