From waiters and waitresses to lawyers, a large group of people are now eligible for vaccination regardless of their age, with Turkey expanding its fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Turkey's Health Ministry rolled out more categories for vaccine eligibility on Thursday and Friday in its bid to achieve mass immunity for the country.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca fired tweets one after another to the joy of millions on Thursday evening, and his announcements of new groups for vaccination continued into Friday. The first group included in the new “age-free” chapter of the inoculation drive was food sector employees, which includes everyone from the staff of restaurants and cafes to people processing and delivering the food to millions every day. It was followed with hairdressers for men and women, an occupation that became dangerous during the coronavirus pandemic for an environment where people are in close contact for hours. Later, Koca announced lawyers would be able to book vaccine appointments starting on Friday.
On Friday, the vaccination campaign was extended to people in the transportation sector, including the staff of inner-city buses, minibuses, intercity buses and taxi drivers, whose vaccination will start on Saturday. Koca announced on Friday afternoon that people working in delivery services, including motorcycle couriers who deliver everything from food to consumer electronics to millions confined to home during the pandemic, would have their vaccinations starting on Saturday.
The Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TIM), meanwhile, announced that exporters holding “green passports” for international trips were also included in “priority” groups for vaccination. “This is an important decision to improve Turkey’s export volume,” the TIM, an umbrella body for 100,000 exporters exporting to hundreds of countries, hailed the decision. The first job-specific vaccination process was launched for teachers a few months ago, and this week it included musicians, actors and staff of film and TV production crews as well as theater companies.
The country launched its vaccination campaign in January 2021 with health care workers. The oldest citizens were prioritized in the drive, with the age limit for eligibility gradually dropping with the arrival of new batches of doses. Currently, people at the age of 45 and above can book vaccine appointments while the minimum age eligible for vaccination will be lowered to 40 next week. So far, more than 32 million doses of vaccines were administered, and this number includes 13.5 million people who had their two doses of vaccine. The country uses the inactive vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac as well as Pfizer-BioNTech’s Messenger RNA (MRNA) vaccine. A deal was also made with Russia for imports of the Sputnik V vaccine and locally made vaccines are expected to be available later this year.
Administering 32 million doses in less than six months is no small feat for a country of more than 83 million people, and Turkey once ranked sixth in the world in coronavirus vaccination. Yet, the drive slowed down a little with delays in the shipment of vaccines. This month, more Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are set to arrive in the country. Vaccine hesitancy among the public also hurts the process. Authorities seek to promote vaccination among the wider masses and are considering bringing in restrictions for those who do not have their jabs, though inoculation is not mandatory in the country.
Another challenge for them is the endurance of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which can easily spoil if exposed to high temperatures. Koca on Friday warned that every Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine flask contained six doses of vaccine and each dose had to be used within six hours.
“Doses not delivered in six hours cannot be used again and go waste. The vaccines are precious and hard to acquire. Do not skip your appointment,” he warned the public in a tweet.
To prevent any potential loss, hospitals and agencies overseeing the distribution of these shots scramble to ensure that not a single dose is wasted. It involves a meticulous vaccination schedule and sometimes calling people in early for their appointment if someone else fails to show up. The vaccine was previously available only at public and private hospitals due to anticipated problems over storage conditions, but authorities recently announced that it would now be available at small neighborhood clinics as well.
In Istanbul, the country’s most populated city, the head of the local health authority said the entire population eligible for jabs could be vaccinated in one and a half months. Professor Kemal Memişoğlu told Ihlas News Agency (IHA) on Friday that the city had been seeing fewer coronavirus cases nowadays. He said the city had enough capacity for mass vaccination. “COVID-19 cases have significantly decreased now. We now have the lowest positive test rates since the start of the pandemic and this is the result of tremendous efforts against the pandemic. I believe it will be a better summer for Istanbul in terms of the pandemic."
He noted that there was “great interest” for vaccination in the city and that vaccination rates among people 55 and older exceeded 80%. Memişoğlu added that the daily vaccination capacity in Istanbul was currently around 200,000 but that it could be increased to 400,000. “We have administered more than 2.5 million second doses,” he stressed.