As Turkey’s immunization program continues on its regular course, the country seeks to add its locally developed Turkovac jab to the coronavirus pandemic arsenal.
Turkovac, which has been the subject of an emergency clearance request, is still in phase 3 trials but the results are promising, researchers say. A hospital in western Izmir province reported no side effects or coronavirus infections after inoculation among 74 volunteers.
Tepecik’s training and research hospital in the province is among five hospitals and centers where the vaccine is tested as it counts down to final approval and mass production next year. Professor Şükran Köse, the hospital’s trial coordinator, said staff are running different trials with Turkovac and CoronaVac, a vaccine from China’s Sinovac that shares the same inactive characteristics as the local jab. CoronaVac is one of two vaccines currently available to the public, along with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Authorities want to offer Turkovac as another option for unvaccinated people and those in need of booster vaccines.
Since October 11, 17 people who had not received any of the COVID-19 vaccines have received a dose of the Turkovac vaccine. Fifty-seven participants who had received two doses of Coronavac received Turkovac as a booster injection. None of the volunteers experienced serious side effects, Köse, who also heads the Association for the Prevention of Infectious Diseases, told the Anadolu Agency (AA) on Friday. None of the participants had contracted the disease so far, she added, noting that the results of their study would be published in detail soon.
Köse called for more volunteers to join the trials, so that “we can help beat this global pandemic,” noting that more health data with more volunteers would speed up the vaccine development and approval process.
The researchers aim to reach 3,000 volunteers. So far, around 2,000 people have volunteered for the trials, according to November figures. Köse says that while the developments are promising, those vaccinated must still abide by rules related to the pandemic, such as wearing protective masks and obeying social distancing and hygiene rules, as is the case. with other vaccines. The Izmir hospital also hosted a trial of CoronaVac and administered two doses of the vaccine to 650 volunteers. Köse said that trial also found no serious side effects, except for minor aches and pains and fever, when only four people among those vaccinated were subsequently infected with the coronavirus. “These results show that the vaccines are effective and we are pleased that more people gained access to vaccines in Turkey at an early stage of the pandemic. “
Although more vaccines are available this year, new variants such as omicron are raising concerns about their ability to provide protection. Köse acknowledged this, saying there was no concrete data on the effectiveness of vaccines against omicron, the latest strain of the coronavirus.
“What we know so far is that it spreads faster and is more prevalent in children. The common opinion is that existing vaccines have so far been effective against this variant. We can recommend that parents receive their appropriate vaccine doses to protect their children against this new variant, ”she said.
Children are exempt from vaccination, which is not compulsory for adults either. Yet children between the ages of 12 and 15 are eligible for vaccines if they are chronically ill.
Turkey has long faced an increase in the number of daily cases, with figures fluctuating around 30,000. Yet on Thursday the number of cases fell below 20.00 for the first time in weeks. Experts have called this new wave of cases an “unvaccinated pandemic.”
The country’s immunization program has reached more than 121 million doses. More than 50 million people have so far received two doses of the vaccine. Third doses are highly recommended, especially for those who have received inactive vaccines, as studies and experts say they lose effectiveness over time. More than 12 million people have received third doses in the country.
Besides a low number of third doses, Turkey faces the risk of hesitation of the population to vaccination. Anti-vaccines, which are gaining a foothold on social media, are putting the country’s immunization program at risk, which made progress this summer when it was opened to people of almost all ages. The country has also lifted all blockages and most restrictions alongside the expansion of the immunization program.