Turkey’s domestic COVID-19 vaccine headed towards emergency approval - minister

Turkovac, Turkey’s domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine, is ready to apply for approval for emergency use, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced in a press conference on Thursday.

There are two plants currently capable of manufacturing the Turkovac, Koca said. If the approval goes through, the plants can start production in October, according to daily Sözcü.

Turkey has administered more than 100 million doses of China’s CoronaVac and U.S.-German joint endeavour Pfizer-BioNTech jabs to fight the global coronavirus pandemic, Koca said.

Six million Turks are waiting for booster shots, Koca said.

Turkey started its vaccination drive in mid-January, and only used CoronaVac until mid-April. Most healthcare workers and the elderly were vaccinated with the Chinese jab, which loses efficacy after several months. Those who have had two doses of CoronaVac are eligible for booster shots of Pfizer-BioNTech.

“The ratio of our citizens who have received three doses of vaccines among all cases is lower than two percent,” Koca said. “Ninety percent of active cases in hospitals are people who are not vaccinated or have not completed their full doses.”

Turkey still recorded 23,914 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, Koca announced. “Because we still haven’t reached sufficient levels of full vaccinations. We do not have the protective power of full dose vaccines for most of society.”

According to ministry figures, there were 23,846 new cases on Thursday and 257 deaths due to the coronavirus.

Koca called for calm regarding emerging variants. “There is no difference in protective measures against the variants. We still need vaccines against the new variants,” he said.

More than 90 percent of cases in Turkey are of the Delta variant, Koca said, while there have been two cases of the Mu variant detected, both in Istanbul.

Neither case is hospitalised, according to the minister.

The ministry is closely following rumours and allegations of fake vaccines, Koca said.

Six people, among them three nurses, were detained in Istanbul on Tuesday for selling fake vaccination certificates. The nurses were arrested for fraud while the other three people were released on parole, CNN Türk reported.

After Turkey made PCR tests mandatory to access certain indoor events and spaces in late August, doctors and nurses have been pressured into faking vaccination records by citizens who are against vaccines, according to a report by Hürriyet newspaper.

Despite rumours, “no concrete information on abuse has come to us yet,” Koca said. “If it happens, we will not hesitate to do whatever is necessary.”

As Turkish schools reopen, more than 90 percent of teachers have received at least one dose of the vaccine, the minister said. As an added precaution, there will be randomised screening tests in schools, he added.

“We do not wish to close schools in the new period, because we now have the vaccine,” Koca said.

As case numbers continue to climb, the governor of southern Antalya province announced that vacation days for healthcare workers in the top tourist destination have been suspended.

According to the announcement on Thursday, healthcare personnel who are already on vacation will be called back, news website Artı Gerçek reported.

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