The second and third deliveries of the vaccine were due to be sent to Tehran on February 18 and 28

TEHRAN (AFP) - A first batch of Russia s Sputnik V vaccine arrived Thursday in Iran, the country hit hardest by the pandemic regionally and which alleges US sanctions hinder its fight against Covid-19.

"The first shipment of vaccines from Moscow... has landed at Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran," state news agency IRNA reported without specifying the quantity of doses.

The second and third deliveries of the vaccine were due to be sent to Tehran on February 18 and 28, IRNA quoted Kazem Jalali, Iran s ambassador to Moscow, as saying.

The Islamic republic is fighting the Middle East s deadliest outbreak of the coronavirus, with over 58,000 lives lost out of more than 1.4 million cases of infection.

Announcing the latest grim toll on Thursday, health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari warned that the situation in the country was "sensitive and fragile".

Iran says arch enemy the United States has hampered its access to vaccines through a tough sanctions regime.

While food and medicine are technically exempt, international banks tend to refuse transactions involving Iran.

Russia registered the Sputnik V jab -- named after the Soviet-era satellite -- in August last year, before the start of large-scale clinical trials, leaving some experts wary.

When Iran announced it was purchasing the Russian vaccine, it sparked a debate online and also sceptical comments from at least two key officials.


AstraZeneca order 

Minou Mohraz, an epidemiologist who sits on the national committee tasked with fighting the virus, late last month criticised the choice because it "had not been approved by international institutions".

But an analysis of clinical trials in topic medical journal the Lancet published this week indicated an efficacy of 91.6 percent against symptomatic cases of Covid-19.

Several countries beyond Russia have begun administering Sputnik V, including Argentina.

Iran s President Hassan Rouhani said this week that the country hoped to begin its vaccination campaign some time around February 18.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday talks were ongoing with Russia to explore production capacities for the Sputnik jab in Germany or elsewhere in Europe.

Iran s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had last month banned vaccines produced in the United States and Britain, calling them "completely untrustworthy".

But Iran s Health Minister Saeed Namaki said on Wednesday that Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca would provide the country with 4.2 million doses of its vaccine.

"AstraZeneca is produced in Russia, India and South Korea, and Iran uses these anti-coronavirus products," health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told AFP.

They were purchased via Covax, the mechanism for the equitable distribution of vaccines established by the UN World Health Organization.

Iran started clinical trials of its own vaccine in late December.