ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish authorities gave the go-ahead for the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. on Wednesday, paving the way for the rollout for Turkey’s vaccination program starting with health care workers and other high-risk groups.
The country’s health minister, Fahrettin Koca, and members of the country’s scientific advisory council received the first shots live on television, soon after the health regulatory authority, the Turkish Medicines and Medical Devices Agency, announced it had given the green light for use in the country of 83 million.
“I had previously said that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Koca said as he received the first dose of the vaccine, which will be delivered in two doses. “I believe that the days ahead of us will be bright.”
Koca said Turkey’s vaccination program would begin on Thursday, starting with health care workers. He urged all citizens to be vaccinated, saying it was the most promising way to beat the pandemic.
The shots would carry a QR code assigned to a person’s name in accordance with Ankara’s vaccination program and an online appointment system.
The Sinovac vaccine underwent studies in Turkey, Brazil and Indonesia, and there’s uncertainty over just how protective it is.
Researchers in Brazil last week had pegged the vaccine as 78% effective at protecting against symptomatic illness — but this week they announced data showing overall, effectiveness is just over 50%.
Researchers in Turkey and Indonesia had announced higher effectiveness rates — 91% and 65% respectively — but those studies were far too small to be conclusive. Global health authorities have said any vaccine that is at least 50% effective would be useful.
The first shipment Sinovac vaccine, consisting of 3 million doses, arrived in Turkey late last month. Turkey is scheduled to receive a total of 50 million doses.
Turkey had previously also announced that it has agreed to procure 4.5 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, with an option to procure 30 million more doses later, although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that talks with BioNTech were ongoing.
Turkey has reported about 2.34 million infections and around 23,000 deaths.
The country has imposed weekend lockdowns and evening curfews to fight the surge in the cases.
Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul and Mauricio Savarese in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributed to this report.
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