Turkey refutes report it ruled out Russia's COVID-19 vaccine, says could use if meets criteria

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is ready to procure Russia’s coronavirus vaccine if it meets Ankara’s criteria, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday, refuting an earlier media report that cited him as ruling it out.

FILE PHOTO: A specialist works during the production of Gam-COVID-Vac, also known as Sputnik-V, vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a facility of BIOCAD biotechnology company in Saint Petersburg, Russia December 4, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

“If (tests) are successful, there is no problem in procuring the vaccine produced in Russia,” Koca told a news conference following a meeting of the government’s science team.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Haberturk news website quoted Koca as saying Ankara had ruled out the Russian vaccine as it did not meet conditions of “good laboratory practice”.

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

The spokesman of the Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which backs the Sputnik vaccine’s development and is responsible for its marketing abroad, said earlier RDIF was continuing talks with Turkey.

Russia was the first country to grant regulatory approval for a novel coronavirus vaccine, doing so before large-scale trials were complete - which stirred 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.

Haberturk cited Koca as saying Turkey needed 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 its results were not effective enough.

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, Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Anton Zverev and Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Daren Butler, William Maclean, Mark Heinrich, Alexandra Hudson