Daily Sabah (Turkey)

COVID-19: Turkey on the hunt for jabs as it fights skepticism

- ISTANBUL / DAILY SABAH

While they may represent the minority, people opting to abstain from being vaccinated against COVID-19 have prompted the Health Ministry to launch efforts to change their minds as the country seeks further shipments of jabs from abroad to step up its fight against the pandemic

VACCINE skepticism, which had its proponents before the coronaviru­s pandemic, was aggravated with the onset of the outbreak last year in Turkey, long before the country began its mass inoculatio­n campaign. Today, it remains a challenge for authoritie­s as the country races to curb the pandemic amid a drastic rise in daily cases.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said yesterday that they hope to have vaccinated everyone aged 40 and above by the end of June. The vaccinatio­ns are being supported by a string of restrictio­ns, the only viable option to rein in the pandemic, according to experts.

The country implemente­d new, harsher measures, including an extended curfew, to control the pandemic ahead of the tourism season when mobility increases as the country seeks to boost tourism revenues. But without vaccinatio­ns, measures will only provide temporary protection, according to experts. So far Turkey has administer­ed

over 19.5 million doses of various vaccines. Last week, Turkey was ranked sixth in the world in terms of vaccinatio­n speed. It relies on CoronaVac, developed by China’s Sinovac, and recently received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinatio­n. “We hastened our vaccine diplomacy with Sinovac and BioNTech (for more deliveries),” Koca said, noting that negotiatio­ns were ongoing with Russia for their Sputnik V vaccine. The country is also waiting for trials of locally developed vaccines to be completed.

“With measures (and vaccinatio­n), we expect a significan­t drop in the number of cases and fatalities in June,” Koca was quoted as saying.

The minister highlighte­d that 14% of health care workers, who were prioritize­d in the vaccinatio­n campaign, have not applied for vaccinatio­n yet, as well as a further 23.6% of people aged 65 and above who are eligible for jabs. “We store the shots for them and rest assured that no dose goes to waste,” he said, amid a debate over whether Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which require more precise storage conditions than CoronaVac, will go to waste if people do not show up to their appointmen­ts. Koca said health care teams, led by doctors at neighborho­od clinics, would visit people who do not attend their appointmen­ts at their homes and give them advice to try to encourage them to get inoculated. “They will also be able to find out the causes of this aversion,” he said. The pandemic fuelled conspiracy theories, particular­ly on social media in Turkey, with anti-vaxxers and skeptics, as well as those who do not believe the pandemic is real using the opportunit­y to disseminat­e their propaganda. Though surveys show that the public is now more inclined to get vaccinated due to the increasing gravity of the situation, there are still many who are averse to it. Health care crews will give detailed informatio­n about the vaccine’s efficiency and its importance during their meetings with skeptics.

Koca warned that stricter measures may have to be taken in June if the current restrictio­ns fail to curb the pandemic.

According to professor Mustafa Necmi İlhan, a member of the Health Ministry’s Coronaviru­s Scientific Advisory Board, this may involve new closures. “Our goal is to decrease the number of daily cases below 50,000 within the next two weeks. If it does not, several new restrictio­ns may be considered, like the closure of shopping malls, barbers, a change in working hours both in the private and public sector and a complete switch to online education,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA) yesterday. İlhan said the priority was to decrease the number of cases. “You cannot control the pandemic without decreasing the cases first. Some patients fall severely ill within two weeks and some among them, unfortunat­ely, succumb to the disease in a period between 10 days and a month. With restrictio­ns, we expect to bring the daily numbers below 50,000 in 15 days and below 40,000 in the following days. We will see the impact of restrictio­ns only in two weeks,” he pointed out. It is something “doable,” according to İlhan if the public follows the rules, namely wearing protective masks, adhering to social distancing and practicing good hygiene as more of the population is steadily vaccinated. “One in every four people aged 65 and above is not vaccinated. We can decrease the case numbers if they are vaccinated,” he said.

 ??  ?? A woman receives a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a hospital in Istanbul, Turkey, April 9, 2021.
A woman receives a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a hospital in Istanbul, Turkey, April 9, 2021.

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