Turkey rolled out a new stage in its coronavirus vaccination drive Friday, with people at the age of 18 and above now able to get their jabs. They will be the last group to be vaccinated as the Health Ministry tries to convince those who were in previously eligible groups but shunned doses.
With appointments open, youths rushed to the online appointment app and filled hospitals and clinics on Friday morning for their shots. It was a much-anticipated stage in the pandemic for youngsters, who were repeatedly warned to adhere to coronavirus measures as a group, thought to be least infected by the virus but more prone to easily infecting others. Their inclusion will boost vaccination numbers, which reached more than 46 million on Friday, with 14.7 million people administered both doses of the vaccine.
“Everyone should get vaccinated. We have to trust the science of medicine and we need to protect ourselves,” 19-years-old Ece Çelikkol said as she arrived at the Ankara City Hospital in the capital for vaccination.
Aslı Cansu Bora, 21, says she was afraid of the potential side effects of vaccines but decided to have it as “a citizen with awareness of the need for vaccination to overcome the pandemic.”
Dr. Selmani Doğan, the deputy chief physician of Dr. Sadi Konuk Training and Research Hospital in Istanbul, said they were seeing an increasing demand for vaccination. He told Anadolu Agency (AA) that more young people are expected next week as this weekend’s university admission exams may disrupt registrations.
Doğan said they also sent crews to shopping malls and outdoor venues to set up vaccination booths to increase the drive. “The Health Ministry has a vaccination schedule and it is very busy now. We have to prioritize vaccination to return to normal life, to return to the days when we did not have to wear masks,” Doğan said.
Yaman Erdoğan, a 19-years-old university student, said he applied for vaccination because he wanted his school to be fully reopened for in-person education, without the risk of infections.
After combating vaccine hesitancy and delays in vaccine imports, Turkey went on to break daily vaccination records, surpassing 1 million per day this month. The numbers are a result of the Health Ministry’s inclusion of new groups in the campaign, almost on a daily basis. Though the campaign began with a focus on age, with the oldest citizens vaccinated first, it expanded into occupational groups regardless of age this summer, from teachers to factory workers. Venues were also diversified and the public can now have their jabs in factories, in the fields and orchards where they work, or as in some cities, at malls or tents set up at busy squares.
The drive also gained momentum with the arrival of more shipments of vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and China’s Sinovac. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is also expected to be available soon. Turkovac, a locally-made inactive vaccine, in the meantime, launched its Phase 3 trials this week.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Friday shared the vaccination rates for provinces and named Edirne in the northwest as the province with the highest rate of inoculation at more than 68%. Edirne is followed by Amasya, Eskişehir and Çanakkale where the rate is around 67%.
Under a campaign entitled “we roll up our sleeves,” the Health Ministry seeks to convince vaccine skeptics to get their jabs, as they are now the last group not getting inoculated. The ministry set up “vaccine persuasion crews” all across the country. Crews visit skeptics at home and explain the benefits of vaccination. If they are convinced, citizens are delivered jabs on site or directed to the nearest hospital.
Ultimately, those below the age of 18 will be the only group exempted from vaccination, though a final decision on the issue has not been made yet.
Professor Serap Şimşek Yavuz, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Friday that children may be administered a lower dose of vaccine. She said they are monitoring the results of vaccinations among children and young adults in other countries and may consider giving a low, single dose to children and if two doses are needed, may prolong the period between two doses.
Yavuz pointed out concerns over the delta variant, especially in the United Kingdom which has high levels of vaccination. “Delta is more effective due to the presence of people not vaccinated. In the United Kingdom's case, we see a longer period between doses as a reason for the variant to spread. One dose of vaccine is not unfortunately effective against the variant among adults,” she warned.
She said a lesser dose of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines can be considered for children. Turkey currently uses the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine. She said that CoronaVac, another vaccine available in Turkey, received approval in China for use on those under 18, “but we still need more adults to be vaccinated so that children can return to their normal lives too.”
“The more the adults are vaccinated, the less we see infections among children.”