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Turkey approves locally developed COVID-19 vaccine as booster shot

Turkey approves locally developed COVID-19 vaccine as booster shot

Turkey’s top drug regulatory authority has greenlit the use of Turkovac, a coronavirus vaccine developed using local means, as a third dose or booster shot against the deadly disease, media outlets reported on Friday. The vaccine is not publicly available yet, but the third dose will be provided on request to individuals that have received two doses of CoronaVac, an inactive vaccine like Turkovac.

The third doses will be supplied in parallel with Phase III studies of the vaccine, which is expected to receive usage approval this month.

Following approval by the Health Ministry’s Turkish Medicines and Medical Devices Agency (TITCK), Turkovac will be initially available in 40 locations. Applications are expected to be opened in the coming days for third doses with the local vaccine. Quoted by local media, TITCK chair Associate Professor Tolga Karahan said they had already approved eight out of 13 clinical research applications for Turkovac and the last approval was granted on Thursday.

A total of 1,599 doses of Turkovac were administered to volunteers in Phase III trials held in the central province of Kayseri, where it was developed by scientists from Erciyes University, as well as in the capital Ankara and the metropolis of Istanbul. The northern province of Trabzon will also join the Phase III trials soon.

Turkovac, previously known as ERUCOV-VAC before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renamed it, was developed in seven months by a team of scientists led by professor Aykut Özdarendeli. It started its Phase 1 trials in November 2020. Phase 2 trials began on Feb. 10, and so far no side effects have been reported among volunteers.

Turkey launched its vaccination program in January. Health care workers and senior citizens were the first to be vaccinated. Last summer, the program was expanded to all age groups at the age of 15 and above.

The country strives to achieve mass immunity, essential to reducing the number of cases, which reached 30,000 this week, a concerning figure compared to below 10,000 cases early in the summer. The first decline in months in the summer was tied to a strict 17-day lockdown, but cases have been steadily rising since then. Delta and delta plus variants are among culprits driving up the cases, according to experts. Although authorities say most people infected only suffer from mild cases of coronavirus, they acknowledge that more than half of the cases are now young people, unlike the early days of the pandemic. Unvaccinated people also make up the bulk of cases in the country.