Turkey reached a deal to acquire 50m doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine as it grapples with delayed shipments of other drugs and new variants of the coronavirus, the health minister said.
Turkey has detected its first cases of a strain of the virus first identified in India, the minister, Fahrettin Koca, said in a televised message. “Mutations have made the fight against the virus arduous,” he said.
Turkey recorded 40,444 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, the highest daily increase in the world after India. Deaths in the last 24 hours stood at 341, according to the health ministry.
The first batch of the two-dose Sputnik vaccine will arrive in May and the rest will come over the next six months. Turkey is in the final phase of issuing emergency authorisation for the adenovirus-based vaccine and will also produce it domestically, Koca said.
Turkey has fully vaccinated about 11 per cent of its population of 82m people. China’s Sinovac agreed to supply 50m doses, but it is unclear how many have reached Turkey. It has received 4.5m doses of BioNTech/Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.
“Even though there are occasional slowdowns in the shipment of the Sinovac vaccine, with increasing capacity, the amount of doses we receive will increase,” said Koca, adding that more than 30m doses of the Pfizer vaccine will have reached Turkey by June.
Koca said that Ugur Sahin, chief executive of Germany’s BioNTech who is of Turkish descent, on Wednesday spoke with Turkey’s coronavirus task force, prompting them to extend the period between administering the two doses to six to eight weeks from the current 28-day interval. He did not say if there is currently a shortage of the drug.
Public health officials have found five cases of the new variant from India in Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul, Koca said. Most cases in Turkey are from a variant that emerged in the UK, and strains initially detected in South Africa and Brazil are also present, he said.
Scientists have not yet concluded whether the B.1.617 variant first identified in India is responsible for the surge in cases and deaths that country is experiencing.