As Turkey prepares to start rolling out mass coronavirus vaccinations, doctors counter vaccine skeptics and reassure the public that the vaccines are safe and necessary for larger immunity.
The country plans to start inoculations after Dec. 11 with CoronaVac, developed by China’s Sinovac. Health care workers will be the first to be vaccinated. Authorities are also in talks with Pfizer and BioNtech which jointly developed another vaccine against COVID-19.
Professor Mehmet Ceyhan, president of the Association of Infectious Diseases, says the public should not focus on which vaccine will be used but rather the vaccination itself. “Turkey will receive inactive CoronaVac vaccine, and it does not appear that Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine will be available sooner than it. We should not debate which vaccine we should have,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Tuesday.
CoronaVac is among the vaccines which are in Phase 3 human trials in Turkey since September although it will still require final approval from the country's health authorities. Ceyhan said none of the vaccines in Phase 3 trials produced serious side effects except minor pains and rashes. “I have no reservations about Sinovac’s vaccine, but its efficacy can be debated. Personally, I will be vaccinated. People will not be forced into vaccination, but they should heed these two points. We face a highly prevalent, deadly disease which almost affects one in 20-30 people. Let’s assume that this vaccine would protect you only partially. Even a small rate of protection is important at this stage of the pandemic,” he said. “Secondly, this is something you should do for public health. You have to achieve immunity, at least, a part of the society, to eliminate the outbreak. Without high levels of inoculation, we cannot achieve this goal,” he pointed out.
Indonesia's state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma said on Tuesday that interim data on trials it was conducting on vaccines produced by the Chinese company Sinovac showed up to 97% efficacy, according to a Reuters report. "Our clinical trial team found, within one month, that the interim data shows up to 97% for its efficacy," said Iwan Setiawan, a spokesperson for Bio Farma, at a news conference. He did not elaborate whether the interim result was from a late-stage clinical trial, but another Bio Farma spokesperson told Reuters later that the company is still gathering data on efficacy from the ongoing Phase 3 trial. Sinovac had said earlier that 97% of healthy adults receiving a lower dosage participating in its Phase 1-2 trial showed antibody-related immune response after taking its COVID-19 vaccine. A Sinovac spokesperson said on Tuesday the company had not received efficacy readings from Phase 3 clinical trials. Brazil's Butantan Institute biomedical center, which is running a Phase 3 trial of CoronaVac in the country, said last week that Sinovac was expected to publish efficacy results from its vaccine trials by Dec. 15.
Professor Ismail Balık, head of the Infectious Diseases Department at Ankara University Faculty of Medicine in the Turkish capital, said that the public should not feel dubious about the vaccines Turkey would use. “I personally had myself injected with CoronaVac (in human trials). People should dismiss their concerns,” he said. On debates surrounding Messenger RNA (Mrna) vaccines like the one developed by Pfizer-BioNtech, Balık dismissed conspiracy theories circulating on social media claiming that it would change people's “genetic structure.” The professor added, “All vaccines undergo comprehensive safety tests before their approval in Turkey. We also see a misperception about the vaccine from China and people consider it something lacking quality or safety. It is actually an inactive vaccine which is developed with a method that proved effective in other diseases.”