As of Monday, Turkey surpassed 58 million doses in its vaccination campaign against the coronavirus. More than 17 million people now have both doses but the country still has a long way to go. Experts, in the meantime, warn that vaccination is key to prevent the pandemic from prevailing with its new variants.
“Variants will take hold without vaccination,” professor Rahmet Güner, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, said.
Vaccines are widely available in the country, including ones supplied by China’s Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech. However, people hesitating to have their jabs worry the authorities who are seeking to achieve mass immunity before the end of the summer in the country of more than 83 million people.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca warned Sunday that it was becoming “difficult” to maintain the decline in cases in provinces in the “red category” while indicating on an accompanying map showing provinces with low rates of vaccination marked in red. The map shows low rates are almost concentrated in eastern and southeastern provinces, with Yozgat, Konya and Niğde among those with relatively lower rates compared to other provinces.
The country relaxed most pandemic-related restrictions last month, in the aftermath of a drop in the number of daily cases. But mandatory masks, social distancing and hygiene rules prevail. Professor Güner says the delta and delta plus variants raging across the world are a result of the virus “seeking to mutate itself for survival, to infect more. Thus, we need to sustain our personal responsibilities to prevent infections. Those that are getting vaccinated, must continue wearing protective masks and ensure social distancing with others,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA) Monday.
“Without sustaining these (precautions), the pandemic will continue with these variants,” he warned. Güner highlighted that studies were still underway on the infection rate of delta plus, but current results of some studies point out that the speed of infection and hospitalizations appear to be higher than previous strains of the coronavirus.
So far, Turkey has reported three delta plus cases, while 284 delta cases were reported in 30 provinces. None of delta plus cases were fatal. “The more we administer vaccines, the more it will be possible to stop the development of variants, to stop the virus multiplying itself,” Güner stressed.
Combating vaccination skeptics and people's hesitation in being vaccinated is not an easy task in some places though. Turkey has pursued a particularly successful vaccination campaign over the past month thanks to the arrival of new shipments of vaccines and with the campaign extended to all age groups, except those under 18. Venues for vaccination were also diversified and it is now possible to be vaccinated almost anywhere, from shopping malls to city squares and, for those in villages, at home.
Still, vaccine skepticism or hesitancy prevailing among younger people is a source of concern, as the youth are viewed as more infectious hosts of COVID-19. For instance, in Kocaeli, an industrial city east of Istanbul, the vaccination rate is over 61% but local officials say it is still below the level they desire. Health care workers seek to raise awareness of the campaign and Monday they hit the streets to visit cafes where crowds have flocked to after they were fully reopened in June. Some health care workers carried banners about the importance of vaccines while others tried to convince skeptics to get their jabs.
Yüksel Pehlevan, head of the Directorate of Health in the province, says they tour busy places for vaccine awareness and to end prejudice in people’s minds toward vaccines. Social media is rife with conspiracy theories and fake news that the vaccines cause diseases. “We are talking to the youth. It is imperative to inform the youth to increase the demand for vaccines. Vaccines are our only way to overcome the pandemic,” he told AA.
“We have a high vaccination potential but we are still not in the desired place. We want to go blue,” he said, referring to the color assigned to provinces with a vaccination rate above 70%.
“Certainly, the number of cases drop but unfortunately they also increase from time to time, especially when restrictions are relaxed,” he said.
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