Thousands of people will receive the second jabs of the coronavirus vaccine this week as Turkey plans to launch the new inoculation drive Thursday. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairperson Devlet Bahçeli, who received first shots last month, will join health care workers in receiving second shots.
In the meantime, the country plans to roll out the first shots for citizens 65 and above in the next stage of the vaccination drive soon. A new batch of CoronaVac, the inactive vaccine imported from China and currently the only one available in the country, awaits approval for the start of the second stage.
Health care workers were the first to receive jabs from CoronaVac on Jan.14. Today, the number of people injected with the first dose stands at more than 2.6 million.
The vaccine had received emergency usage approval one day before the start of the vaccination drive and two weeks after the arrival of the first shipment of jabs from China. Koca and his ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board were the first to get jabs and hours later, Erdoğan joined them to set an example for the public.
Under the Health Ministry’s vaccination plan, health care workers who remain at the frontline against the pandemic were prioritized for the shots. On Jan. 19, Turkey started vaccinating elderly people residing in nursing homes. The inoculation gradually expanded to cover elderly people of various ages, with nonagenarians becoming the first to be vaccinated. Currently, people 75 and above are eligible for vaccinations.
Turkey had ordered 10 million doses from Sinovac and received all in a few weeks in separate shipments. While the first shipment of 3 million doses is expected to run out in a few days, the second batch, comprising of 6.5 million doses, is still being tested at the Health Ministry’s laboratories. After security tests are concluded, people 65 and above will be able to get their first jabs, through an appointment-only system. Except for frail elderly citizens who cannot leave home, all citizens eligible for vaccination can visit neighborhood clinics or hospitals after making an appointment online or via phone calls. Health care crews visit homes of those unable to go to the hospital to administer the shots.
Harsh weather conditions can be a challenge for health care workers, especially in remote areas in the southeastern Turkey. Yet, it does not daunt crews looking to reach the elderly citizens. In the Çüngüş district of southeastern Diyarbakır province, crews follow snowplowers as they clear the snow-covered roads to villages. Volkan Bahadır, a member of the vaccination crew, told Anadolu Agency (AA) Monday that difficulties due to weather and geography never “prevents locals from accessing their services.”
After the senior citizens, the ministry plans to vaccinate people working in critical sectors. Teachers are also expected to be vaccinated this month, ahead of the reopening of schools on Feb. 15. Critical sectors include defense and logistics. Soldiers, police officers, prison staff, people working in food production and transportation will be prioritized after senior citizens.
The age limit will gradually drop to the age brackets of 40-49, 30-39 and 18-29. Those who did not have their vaccine shots despite being in the prioritized age groups will be the last to receive the jabs.
Professor Serap Şimşek Yavuz, a member of the Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, said that people should not feel relaxed with the vaccination gaining momentum. “You should not remove your mask unless everyone in the country is inoculated,” she warned. Speaking to Ihlas News Agency (IHA) on Monday, Yavuz said that the vaccination process was going smoothly and no serious side effects were found so far among more than 2.6 million people. “We expect no further side effects in the long run. The vaccines, overall, did not cause any deaths in the world, but we have concrete numbers on how many people died of the coronavirus,” she said. “The vaccine especially protects you against a severe case of coronavirus but you need at least 15 days before it starts giving protection to your body after the first dose. It protects you but does not guarantee that you will not infect others. So, you will need everyone around you vaccinated so that the infections would stop,” she warned.
Yavuz reassured the public on the vaccine’s efficacy, stating that current vaccines are efficient against the deadliest variant of the coronavirus, though other variants lessen the body’s immunity a little even after vaccination. “The vaccine is our greatest hope now but for next year. This year, our best weapons against the coronavirus are masks, social distancing and hygiene,” she added.
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