Turkey has thus far secured 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, far short of the repeated targets set by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca in recent months.
Koca first spoke about vaccine shipments in late November, heralding an agreement to receive 50 million doses of CoronaVac from Chinese producer SinoVac. He also mentioned efforts to secure a deal with Germany’s BioNTech, and spoke of a Turkish-developed vaccine that would be ready by April.
Turkey’s original plan was to receive the first delivery of CoronaVac on Dec. 11 and immediately start vaccinating healthcare workers, but the shipment was delayed, officially due to a resurgence of cases in Beijing.
Around the same time, China ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey and upped the pressure on Ankara to do the same. The treaty would impact the Uighurs, who had sought refuge in Turkey due to China’s treatment of the Turkic Muslim minority in its Xinjiang region.
Announcing the delay, Koca updated his estimate to 50 million vaccine doses being delivered by late February.
In a late February, Koca made a new announcement, saying Turkey would receive delivery of 105 million doses in total. He also updated the timeline for Turkey’s indigenous vaccine project, ERUCOV-VAC, shifting it from April to “the summer”.
But as of March 11, based on confirmed deliveries, Turkey is currently only in possession of some 15 million doses, according to Okan Yücel of news website Medyascope.
Experts have increasingly criticised the government for relying solely on CoronaVac and failing to secure access to the BioNTech, Moderna or AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines.
On Dec. 25, Koca said Turkey had signed a contract with BioNTech “as of 04:30 tonight”, adding that BioNTech co-founder Dr Uğur Şahin had set aside 550,000 doses of the vaccine to be delivered to Turkey “by the year’s end or early January”.
Bu miktarın Türkiye’ye yıl sonuna kadar ya da ocak ayı başında gelmesi beklenmektedir. Bununla birlikte MART ayı sonuna kadar 4.5 MİLYON doz aşı ülkemize teslim edilecektir. Anlaşmamıza göre tarafların mutabakatı ile 30 MİLYON doza kadar aynı şartlarda aşı temin edilebilecektir.
— Dr. Fahrettin Koca (@drfahrettinkoca) December 25, 2020
But speaking to reporters on Feb. 10, Koca said: “In the coming period, we are not in favour of saying ‘today we received so-and-so shipment, this much will come at this time’ anymore, because we know this is harmful with regard to other countries and companies. For example, we received a shipment of vaccines yesterday and today. This is the first time you are hearing this from me.”
Later, in a press event on Feb. 25, Koca said the first 800,000 doses were expected to be delivered “probably within 10 days”. He said BioNTech would deliver 4.5 million doses by the end of March, and that same purchasing conditions could be applied for up to 30 million doses.
No announcements have been made on the arrival of BioNTech vaccines to date.
Meanwhile, volunteers in clinical trials received on Wednesday their second doses of the domestic ERUCOV-VAC jab, state-run Anadolu agency reported.
Koca said Turkey would start human trials on five more vaccine projects developed locally on Thursday, which marked the anniversary of the first official case of COVID-19 detected in the country.
Speaking to doctors and reporters, Koca again emphasised that significant quantities of vaccine were on the way.
“We signed the agreement with (SinoVac) in China in November, and received the first shipment of the order at the end of December. We have made agreements with two separate vaccine manufacturers for a total of 130 million doses. And, we have been in talks with three other manufacturers since the beginning.”
Turkey is among the fastest nations in procuring vaccine supplies, Koca added.
Since the launch of the vaccination drive on Jan. 14, 7.8 million people have received their first jabs, and 2.72 million people have received both doses required for full immunisation.