ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will start countrywide COVID-19 vaccinations on Thursday beginning with health workers, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday shortly after Sinovac’s vaccine was granted emergency authorisation.
Turkey has been hit hard by the pandemic, with around 23,000 people dying from the virus and more than 2 million infected. Night-time curfews are in force throughout the week, with a full two-day lockdown at weekends.
“For us to return to our old lives, we absolutely need to get the vaccine,” Koca said after being vaccinated live on television, followed by members of Turkey’s advisory science council. “I believe the days ahead of us will be bright.”
The vaccines have been distributed to public health storage facilities in all Turkey’s 81 provinces, he told reporters.
Ankara plans first doses for health workers and those older than 65, followed by those older than 50 and suffering a chronic illness, in addition to those in specific sectors or high-risk environments.
The third group will include young adults and some other categories, with a fourth group covering the rest.
Turkey has received 3 million doses of Sinovac’s Coronavac and has ordered a total of 50 million. It is also in talks for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
While Indonesia began administering the Chinese vaccine on Wednesday, various trials from around the world have shown wide ranging results including researchers in Brazil releasing late-stage clinical data showing an efficacy rate of only 50.4%.
Last month, Turkish researchers said CoronaVac showed a 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 will continue as it moves ahead with the mass inoculation, the trials coordinator told Reuters.
Daily coronavirus infections have dropped to around 10,000 and deaths to around 170 in recent days.
(Reporting by Can Sezer, Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans, Jonathan Spicer and Timothy Heritage)