The number of people in Turkey who have taken their first shot of CoronaVac, an imported inactive vaccine, reached 2.08 million on Monday. Health care workers were the first to get the shots on Jan. 14.
Elderly citizens are currently being inoculated at hospitals and clinics all across the country while crews from the Health Ministry are visiting the homes of those unable to get to their designated inoculation location.
The country received 3 million doses of CoronaVac, developed by China’s Sinovac, on Dec. 30 and a second shipment last month. The vaccines were analyzed at Health Ministry laboratories and received emergency use approval. They were later distributed to 81 provinces in trucks fitted with cold chain storage devices to ensure their safety against being spoiled.
The age limit is gradually dropping in line with the vaccination plan. People aged 75 and above began being inoculated on Jan. 28 and that age will be lowered as more jabs are delivered. The Health Ministry set up vaccination rooms in every hospital and neighborhood clinics across the country and appointments are required, online or through a ministry hotline, to prevent crowding.
CoronaVac was the first vaccine Turkey imported. The government plans to acquire more from Sinovac and is in talks with other companies for the acquisition of more vaccines.
Turkey is continuing to create domestic vaccines, none of which are inactive as they are easier to develop. They are expected to be available for approval and then used later this year. Three Turkish vaccine candidates are set to start phase trials soon. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Turkey has the third-largest number of COVID-19 vaccine projects in the world, behind only the U.S. and China, authorities say.
Speaking at an event in the capital Ankara on Jan. 26, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan underlined that even as most developed countries face shortages and Turkey was receiving COVID-19 vaccines and progressing with its public vaccination drive. Turkey has had minimal trouble during a period in which even the most prosperous countries faced heartbreaking problems, Erdoğan said. "Thanks to the steps we have taken with the (COVID-19) vaccine and the payments we made, we have started to get our vaccines quickly, and hopefully, 50 million doses of vaccine will come to our country in the first phase," he added.
More than 25,000 people have lost their lives to the coronavirus disease since March in the country. Turkey's number of daily cases fluctuates around 6,000. Authorities note a substantial drop in new cases, something associated with tighter restrictions. Since November, a partial lockdown has been in place during the weekend and an additional 9 p.m. curfew was later added in addition to other measures.
Though the vaccination program has gone smoothly so far, experts warn that the public should comply with measures even after the inoculation drive ends. Masks are still mandatory in public while police routinely inspect venues to warn citizens about social distancing. People that fail to wear masks or maintain socially distancing are subject to fines. The government also closed restaurants, cafes and other places with potential crowding earlier although they are allowed to offer takeaway services. Schools briefly opened in September but went into another shutdown before the end of the first semester.
Like other countries, Turkey has its fair share of anti-vaxxers and vaccine skeptics. Yeşim Taşova, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, says rumors that the vaccine is "ineffective” can only be seen in a small group of people with a weak response to vaccination. She warns that the vaccine will only work if people continue adhering to measures against the outbreak, at least for a while.
"If a person is infected with the virus after vaccination, it is more likely to be a mutated virus," she underlined. Taşova was referring to new strains of the virus that emerged in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced last week that 128 citizens were infected with the mutated coronavirus and there were cases of "U.K. variant" in 17 cities. The latest case was found in the Edremit district of the eastern province of Van. Authorities said on Monday that the infected person, who recently returned from Serbia, was in quarantine, along with his five family members.
Taşova told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Monday that the cause of vaccine failure can be different but it is common for a minority of people to react negatively to the vaccine. "The same applies to, for instance, vaccines against hepatitis. Your body can fail to respond it to and your antibody rate can degrade over time. We have to wait and see if the antibody levels go higher when they encountered the same microorganism again. Until then, we have to be careful. People who got their jabs should continue washing their hands, wear their masks and avoid crowded environments. There can also be slight cases of infection among those who were vaccinated. So, self-protection should continue even after the first dose," she urged.
A second dose of vaccine will be administered after four weeks. Experts say the interval is necessary for the body to develop a better immunity response, especially for inactive vaccines. Taşova said there is a risk of infection during this interval but it would most likely stem from a mutated virus.