Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has announced that vaccinations for the coronavirus will begin once the safety tests of an experimental vaccine purchased from China are completed, Turkish media outlets reported on Friday.
The first batch of CoronaVAC, developed by China’s Sinovac, arrived in Turkey on Dec. 30 after a two-week delay. The first batch included 3 million doses of the vaccine.
“The safety tests of the vaccines we bought are ongoing. The moment they are completed, an emergency use authorization will be issued if the results are good,” said Koca.
Turkey, which is among the hardest-hit countries in the world by the coronavirus pandemic, on Thursday reported 12.171 new cases and 194 deaths over the past 24 hours. The country’s total coronavirus death toll currently stands at 22,264.
Critics accuse Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of poorly managing the pandemic and lagging behind other countries in beginning vaccinations.
Turkey’s choice of an experimental vaccine for mass vaccinations is also a matter of controversy because the phase three trials of CoronaVAC are not yet completed.
Despite widespread concerns about the safety of CoronaVAC, Turkey has ordered 50 million doses of the vaccine from the Chinese company. The vaccine has an efficacy rate of 91.25 percent based on early results of late-stage trials conducted in Turkey, according to a statement from Minister Koca in late December.
In the meantime infectious disease specialist Professor Mehmet Ceyhan said in televised remarks on Wednesday that inoculating people over the age of 60 with CoronaVAC is a gamble because the trials were only conducted on people aged between 18 and 60.
He also said only 1,322 people took part in the phase three trials of the vaccine in Turkey and that this is too small a number be called a phase three trial. He said it is not safe to draw scientific conclusions from a trial with fewer than 7,100 participants, adding that the trial in Turkey can only be called phase two.
Publicly released results of early stage clinical trials of the shot, which uses a chemically inactivated version of Sars-Cov-2 to spark an immune response, showed the vaccine to be safe and able to create virus neutralizing antibodies in 98 percent of cases.
But progress stalled as Sinovac had to seek partners overseas to carry out large-scale phase three efficacy trials, due to virus transmission being almost entirely halted in China. Trials are ongoing in Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and Chile, but the company has yet to announce the vaccine’s effectiveness.