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Volunteer investors to help expedite work on Turkey’s domestic COVID-19 vaccine

Volunteer investors to help expedite work on Turkey’s domestic COVID-19 vaccine

The Turkish public has helped with donations for the development of Turkovac, the country’s first locally made COVID-19 vaccine.

Genetically modified mice imported from abroad were an expensive tool needed to speed up research for Turkovac, Turkey’s first locally made vaccine against coronavirus. The vaccine, which is close to production, counted on donors who gave cash to advance the effort.

Professor Mustafa Çalış, the rector of Erciyes University where the vaccine is being developed, says that their work would be slower and inferior to others if it weren’t for donations of people of Kayseri, central Turkish province where the university is located. “Uncle Fevzi called me one month before his death from COVID-19 and asked me if we needed anything,” Çalış recalled in an interview with Ihlas News Agency (IHA) on Monday. He refers to Fevzi Mercan, a local who asked him if the TL 400,000 ($46,000) he had would be of any use to the university. “We were seeking to secure imports of genetically altered mice from the United States for vaccine trials when he called. I asked him if he wanted to donate it for the vaccine study, and he agreed. The money he donated partially covered the purchase of the mice,” he said.

Süleyman Çetinsaya, a Kayseri-born businessperson, also asked them if they needed any financial support for vaccine development. When the rector asked professor Aykut Özdarendeli, chief researcher in the project, if they needed anything, Özdarendeli asked for the purchase of a device and Çetinsaya immediately covered it. “With their contributions, we are in a better place in vaccine development,” Çalış said.

The scientists launched Phase 3 trials for Turkovac last month, and more than 846,000 people applied to volunteer for the last stage of the trials when only 40,800 people were needed. The vaccine is developed with the support of the Health Institutes of Turkey (TÜSEB), an umbrella body of health agencies controlled by the Ministry of Health, which assists in vaccine creation. It is among 18 others developed against the deadly disease and is expected to be the first to be available if trials succeed and the Health Ministry approves it. Authorities plan to make it available for public use by the end of this year and hopes to export it to other countries.

Turkovac, previously known as ERUCOV-VAC before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renamed it, was developed in seven months by a team of scientists. It started its Phase 1 trials in Nov. 2020. Phase 2 trials began on Feb. 10, and as yet no side effects have been reported among the volunteers. It may also be used for a third dose as many people have already been inoculated with vaccines by China’s Sinovac and Germany’s Pfizer-BioNTech.

Turkey administered 52.6 million vaccine doses since it started its inoculation campaign in January 2021. Last week, it also started administering third or “booster” doses for people aged 50 and above, along with health care workers.