Interim results of a study comparing Turkey's own COVID-19 vaccine Turkovac with CoronaVac, which was developed by China's Sinovac, were made public Wednesday. The results show the local jab is 49.29% more successful in the prevention of infections among the vaccinated than CoronaVac. Both are inactive vaccines and CoronaVac was the first to be offered to the Turkish public, when the vaccination program began in January 2021.
The news come at a time when Turkey recorded the highest number of cases since the pandemic made its foray into the country in March 2020. On Tuesday, the number of daily cases reached 74,266, while 137 more people died of the deadly infection. The jump is concerning compared to the number of daily cases back in early December, when they fluctuated above 20,000 but rarely approached 30,000.
"We see a significant rise in the number of cases and this increase has not yet been reflected in the number of deaths," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca had tweeted following the announcement of the latest daily numbers. "As cases due to the omicron variant become dominant, omicron will be a source of danger for those in risk groups and it may lead to death among the elderly and the chronically ill," he warned, reiterating the risk from the fast-spreading variant.
Hacettepe University in the capital Ankara was running a study comparing the efficacy and safety of two doses of Turkovac with two doses of CoronaVac. Professor Serhat Ünal, a member of the Health Ministry's Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board and country coordinator for Phase III trials of Turkovac, joined professor Mine Durusu Tanrıöver, a scientist in charge of the study and board member of Hacettepe University Vaccine Institute, in announcing the results at a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday. The study began on June 22 and the results cover the analysis of findings up until Dec. 27, 2021.
Tanrıöver said the study encompassed different phases, including an assessment of the vaccines' efficacy verified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests conducted with 1,182 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55, with no history of COVID-19 and previous vaccinations. Some 73% of volunteers were male and 43% among all volunteers were people between the ages of 40 and 55, while 38% were between the ages of 30 and 39 and the rest were younger people.
Half of the volunteers were given two doses of CoronaVac and the other half were administered with two doses of Turkovac, with a span of 28 days between two doses. Interim results indicated that the coronavirus infection rate among people vaccinated with CoronaVac was 8.96% while it was 4.55% for those who had been given Turkovac.
"Turkovac is as safe and efficient at least as CoronaVac. We will have more comprehensive data once we complete the immunogenicity study as well. The majority of patients who were infected during the study had no symptoms or recovered from the disease independent of symptoms. We only had three patients among the group of volunteers administered with Turkovac who required hospitalization. But none needed oxygen supplies and all have recovered without COVID-19 leaving any damage on their bodies," Tanrıöver said.
She added there were no serious side effects with both vaccines and they shared the same minor side effects, and that the most common side effect in Turkovac was pain in the spot where the jab was applied.
Professor Ünal said the original strain of the coronavirus was predominant in Turkey when CoronaVac was developed but in this study, both vaccines were tested at a time of the existence of different variants.