Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted he had received Germany’s BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19, according to a government-friendly journalist, leading to speculation that Erdoğan had never been administered the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine as earlier reported and instead was given the far more effective German shot, which wasn’t available to the general public at the time.
“Erdoğan is asked during a Central Decision and Management Board [MKYK] meeting [of his party]; ‘Are there any concerns related to the German BioNTech vaccine?’ And he gives a really clear answer, saying, ‘I got it. My antibody levels increased afterward. I recommend it’,” Hürriyet daily columnist Abdülkadir Selvi wrote on Tuesday.
The admission by Erdoğan has sparked criticism and raised questions of preferential treatment in Turkey’s vaccination rollout since Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced the arrival of the first batch of BioNTech shots on March 24, while Erdoğan received his first inoculation on Jan. 14, when the country launched its vaccination drive with China’s CoronaVac.
Skeptics questioned whether Erdoğan might have received a BioNTech shot before its arrival was officially announced to the public, in line with the allegations of Murat Emir, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The MP formerly claimed that nearly 200,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine came to Turkey earlier than was officially announced at the end of 2020 and were secretly administered to people close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The lawmaker reiterated his claim last week, after Erdoğan stated during a televised interview that he had received three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far, drawing the ire of opposition politicians and social media users who accused the president of preferential treatment since the majority of Turks still haven’t been able to get the second shot.
Associate Professor Ali İhsan Ökten from the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) told Cumhuriyet that Erdoğan’s remarks as revealed by Selvi could create feelings of distrust among the public in shots other than BioNTech.
“It created suspicion when Erdoğan said he had received three doses. Maybe he had been administered the first shot before and the photo of him receiving it was released on Jan. 14. If he received BioNTech, it means the vaccine had arrived in the country earlier than was announced and was administered to a privileged group,” Ökten added.
The Turkish government, which had ordered the end of in-person dining at restaurants and cafes in mid-April as the country suffered record levels of COVID-19 infections and deaths, rolled back restrictions to allow indoor dining and end weekend lockdowns as of June 1, following a decline in cases.
The country, which has administered the first dose to 18.2 million people and the full two doses to 13.3 million, will receive 12 million doses of BioNTech vaccine by mid-June, according to Koca.