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Senior Health Official Rejects Government's Possible 'Herd Immunity' Policy In Iran

Iranians, some wearing protective gear amid the COVID-19 pandemic, shop at the Tajrish Bazaar market in the capital Tehran on July 14, 2020.

A senior member of the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce has reacted to the possible adoption of "herd immunity policy" by the government of President Hassan Rouhani, saying it is "inefficient".

President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday said according to the estimates of the Health Ministry up to 25 million people in Iran have already been infected since the breakout in February but 30-35 million more could get the virus. Rouhani's remarks have been interpreted as a plan to align government coronavirus policies with the "herd immunity" theory.

Speaking on a live program on the state-run television Dr. Mostafa Qaneie, Secretary of the Scientific Committee of the taskforce said herd immunity is a theory that has been taken into consideration everywhere in the world but added: "However, it is an inefficient theory".

"We can't leave the population to its fate to catch the virus, so [herd immunity] can't be adopted as a strategy," he said and explained that the figure 25 million is based on random serological tests that measure the presence of antibodies in the blood in large populations.

Iran's reaction to the coronavirus crisis has been haphazard and often laced with slow reactions and contradictory moves. At the beginning of the epidemic the government refused to establish quarantines and even close shrines and businesses with the virus quickly spreading in the country.

The tests show that more than 90 percent of those who catch the virus do not show any serious symptoms and the only indication of the presence of the coronavirus in their bodies is the antibodies produced by their immune system to kill the virus, he pointed out.

Another member of the taskforce, Dr. Masoud Mardani, on Sunday said the indication that 25 million Iranians have already had the virus is a positive factor bit it does not mean that [herd immunity has been established] and abiding by prevention measures is no longer required.

However, Dr. Mardani who raised the number of those already infected by the virus to 28 million, that is 30 percent of the population, said the virus will become endemic like the flu virus.

An infection is endemic in a population when it is constantly maintained at a baseline level in a geographic area without external inputs. Dr. Mardani also pointed out that some people catch the virus for a second time but their number is not high and the infection seems to be less acute the second time.

Adoption of policies based on herd immunity has been very controversial since the beginning of the pandemic. Sweden which has based its coronavirus policies on reaching herd immunity – or allowing the virus to become endemic – has had one of the worst death toll rates in comparison with other countries in the world but says it has now reached an immunity level of 30 percent.

The number of new cases has surged in Iran since mid-June. According to the latest official figures which are based only on test results in the last reporting period 209 more Iranians died of COVID-19 and 2,182 new cases were identified which bring the death toll since February to 14,188.

Until Sunday, 237,652 patients who had tested positive and been hospitalized have recovered from COVID-19, the Health Ministry Spokesperson Dr. Sima-Sadat Lari said on Sunday. More than 3,500 patients remain in serious condition.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.