ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has slowed the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations after an explosive start last week, but can quicken it again after the country delivers inoculations to the elderly in care homes and at their houses, the programme’s coordinator said.
The nationwide rollout of the CoronaVac vaccine, produced by China’s Sinovac, reached 1 million people in its first week.
After 600,000 health workers were vaccinated in the first two days, the pace slowed to about 100,000 people per day as the campaign moved to care homes across the country.
“Logistically, our capacity is very high. The current dose numbers are considerably low for us,” programme coordinator Tarkan Mustafa Yamanoglu told Reuters on Wednesday.
The need to “properly administer” vaccines and limit contact to avoid spreading infections were other factors constraining the pace of the rollout, he said, as were the demographics of the people being vaccinated.
“We expect fluctuations in vaccination speeds depending on age groups and mobility; this will happen in the coming period,” Yamanoglu said in an interview.
Ankara has agreed to buy 50 million doses of CoronaVac and is in talks with other developers for supplies, but has only received 3 million doses so far. Authorities have not set a date for the next shipment.
Yamanoglu said authorities had contingency plans in case further shipments were delayed, without giving details.
He added that it was easier to carry out rapid vaccinations with CoronaVac than some other shots, which require much colder storage, and that Ankara was preparing to administer all vaccines in the same manner.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca had said earlier that Turkey has a daily capacity to administer up to 2 million vaccines. The country has a population of about 82 million.
Later on Wednesday, Koca said Ankara’s vaccination programme and its procurement strategy were “good”, adding that Turkey had procured doses in line with its vaccination timetable, allowing it to continue vaccinating without pause.
“We are pushing all conditions to ensure the vaccine reaches as many of our citizens as possible, as soon as possible,” Koca said in a statement after meeting his coronavirus science team.
Turkey has reported some 24,000 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 2.4 million infections since March, some of the highest figures in the Middle East. A night-time curfew and weekend lockdowns are in place to try to contain the pandemic.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gerry Doyle)