It has been more than a year since coronavirus made its foray into Turkey. Affecting the elderly most in the beginning, the deadly disease is now more prevalent among the youth. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced late Wednesday that people at the age of 30 and below made up more than 50% of the cases now.
The pandemic is at its highest levels nowadays after case numbers receded sharply following a 17-day lockdown earlier this summer. The lockdown was followed both by the lifting of most restrictions, including curfews and an expanded vaccination program. Yet, the number of daily cases is steadily climbing again.
On Wednesday, they reached over 30,000, the highest since April 30 while 236 people died in one day, the highest in weeks in fatalities. Some may be baffled by the high number of cases seeing the high rate of vaccination, experts say fast-spreading delta variant may be the culprit in the new wave of infections. The variant coupled with the number of unvaccinated people, which is still high in the country of more than 83 million, is aggravating the pandemic. People violating the remaining pandemic restrictions, like mandatory masks and social distancing, are also among the factors worsening the situation.
Koca, issuing a written statement after a meeting of his ministry’s Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, said Turkey achieved a high vaccination rate, especially after making people at the age of 18 and above eligible for inoculation. “This reduced the average age of coronavirus cases,” he said.
The elderly, along with health care workers, were the first to receive COVID-19 jabs in Turkey which launched the vaccination program in January. “Our youth tends to get infected more. Yet, this high number is not causing an increase in hospitalization and intensive care stays,” he said, linking it to the mass vaccination. “Still, they serve as carriers of the virus and spread it to their families and other, older people. The highest rate of COVID-19 fatalities in the past month has been among people at the age of 70 and above,” he highlighted.
Vaccination is essential to achieve mass immunity, which is the only way to eliminate the pandemic according to health authorities. Nevertheless, vaccine hesitancy, coupled with anti-vaxxer movements, endanger immunity efforts. Media outlets had recently reported that the Health Ministry was considering giving booster shots for people with two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, to prolong immunity. Third shots are already available for people with two doses of the inactive CoronaVac vaccine.
Koca said there was currently no need for a third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. “Protection of mRNA vaccine still exists as third doses started being administered about four months ago. But those who are administered with inactive vaccine should have their third dose as soon as possible, either with an inactive vaccine or with the mRNA vaccine,” he warned.
Koca said the current number of infections was a critical load for Turkey. “Although having more younger COVID-19 patients is not a burden on the health care system, it is still unacceptable to have a high number of infected people. We cannot relax our measures without achieving mass immunity through vaccination,” he said.