Turkey began administering COVID-19 shots developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd (SVA.O) to health workers on Thursday, as it vaccinated more than 285,000 people as part of a nationwide programme against the virus.
Turkey has reported more than 2.3 million infections and 23,000 deaths since March and still reports around 10,000 new cases and 170 deaths each day after a month of weekend lockdowns and nightly curfews.
President Tayyip Erdogan also received his first dose of the vaccine in Ankara on Thursday. read more
He urged political leaders and lawmakers to endorse the inoculation process and called on Turks not to heed criticism of the vaccine. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca also urged citizens to get vaccinated as soon as their turn came, saying it was the "most important way" to beat the pandemic.
At a research hospital in Istanbul, 30 clinics were set up to administer the vaccine. Health workers were given a first dose, with a second to be given 28 days later.
Surgeon General Nurettin Yiyit said the hospital could vaccinate around 1,800 people a day and that its 3,500 staff, including nurses and janitors, could be vaccinated in two days.
"We spent around 10 months in white overalls, supporting people as they struggle for life. Health workers know very well that this situation cannot be taken lightly and that the vaccine is needed," Yiyit said.
As of 2032 GMT, Turkey had vaccinated 285,940 people, according to Health Ministry data.
Asked about the rapid pace of the vaccinations, Turkey’s Health Ministry said vaccines had been distributed across the country at the start of the week and distribution from provincial storage centres had taken place overnight, after emergency authorization for the vaccinations was granted.
"All health records and hospital services are digitised," a ministry official said.
MIXED RESULTS FROM TRIALS
The vaccination of health workers is expected to be completed within a few days and the process will then move on to the next group, which includes those aged over 65.
Nurse Elcin Aslantas said health workers had faced many difficulties. "We don't have much option other than trusting this vaccine really," she said after getting the shot.
Turkey has ordered 50 million doses of Sinovac's CoronaVac and has received 3 million. It is in talks for Russia's Sputnik V vaccine and the shot developed by Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and BioNTech (22UAy.DE), and is working to develop one domestically.
Trials from around the world have shown varying results for the Chinese vaccine, which Indonesia began administering on Wednesday, including late-stage clinical data from Brazil showing an efficacy rate of only 50.4%. read more
Last month, Turkish researchers said CoronaVac showed 91.25% efficacy based on an interim analysis of 29 cases. A fuller analysis can take place when they reach 40 cases.
Turkey's trials would continue as it moves ahead with the mass inoculation, the trials coordinator told Reuters.
Advisory science council member Serhat Unal said the number of participants in Indonesia was small compared with those of Turkey and that Brazil had a different definition of cases, with their efficacy rate based on those who did not show symptoms.
"If the Health Ministry of the Republic of Turkey has purchased a vaccine ... that is a reliable vaccine for us."
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