Turkey will not buy Russian vaccine, health minister tells website

ANKARA, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Turkey has ruled out buying the Russian coronavirus vaccine since its development lacked “good practice”, its health minister said in remarks published on Wednesday, as Ankara steps up efforts to inoculate 50 million citizens by spring.

The Haberturk news website quoted Health Minister Fahrettin Koca as saying the Russian vaccine did not meet “good laboratory practice” conditions.

“Russia was not able to fulfil this. Therefore, it was not possible for the WHO and the world to purchase this vaccine. It is not possible for this vaccine to receive a licence from us either. Therefore, it is out of our area of interest,” he said.

Koca did not specify which Russian vaccine he was referring to but Turkey has talked about conducting Phase III trials for “Sputnik-V”, the world’s first registered coronavirus vaccine.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from the Russia Direct Investment Fund, which backs Sputnik.

Russia was the first country to grant regulatory approval for a novel coronavirus vaccine, doing so before large-scale trials were complete, stirring concern among scientists and doctors about the safety and efficacy of the shot.

Turkey, with a population of 83 million, has signed a contract to buy 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd and expects to begin vaccinations this month, prioritising health workers.

New daily coronavirus infections and deaths on Tuesday hit the highest levels since the coronavirus was first detected in Turkey in March. With more than 33,000 cases, Turkey currently has the fourth highest daily rate globally.

Koca said Turkey needs more vaccines with the aim of inoculating 50 million people by the end of April, adding that it was working to bring forward the delivery of 25 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech.

“They will be able to give us 25 million doses by the end of 2021. We are trying to pull this forward. We want it before the summer. There is a fire going on. We need to extinguish it as soon as possible,” he told Haberturk.

Koca also said Turkey would not pay for the Sinovac vaccine if it “did not like it”.

“We put this in the contract when we gave our order ... If our results are not effective enough, we have the right to return the vaccines and not pay even five cents,” he said.

Ankara has imposed full weekend lockdowns and weekday curfews to combat the sharp rise in deaths and infections. President Tayyip Erdogan has said citizens should be patient until the vaccines arrive. (Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen Editing by Daren Butler, William Maclean)