Turkey’s president on Tuesday unveiled Turkovac, the name for the country’s indigenously developed COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
The vaccine development program has entered Phase 3 clinical trials on volunteers, starting at Ankara City Hospital in the country’s capital, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attending via videoconference.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca witnessed the first volunteers getting the jabs: Erciyes University’s Aykut Ozdarendereli, one of the scientists who developed the vaccine, and Dr. Serhat Unal, its Turkish coordinator.
Speaking at the event, Erdogan said Turkey stepped up its mass inoculation efforts with vaccines imported from Germany and China, but that domestic vaccines would help control infection in the future.
“It is critical that we have our own vaccine in order to save our country from the grip of the pandemic as soon as possible and to ensure the health and welfare of our nation. With this study, which has entered Phase 3, we have now entered the final turning point in having our own vaccine,” said Erdogan.
Turkey this week announced the ending of most pandemic restrictions due to dropping case numbers, but Erdogan also called on Turkish citizens to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus.
“Turkey will lower the COVID-19 vaccination eligibility age to 18 in the coming weeks,” said Erdogan, adding that with accelerated vaccination, COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted one by one.
Speaking at the event, Koca called it a historic moment.
Telling how domestic vaccine efforts began with the isolation of the virus, Koca added that support from the Health Institutes of Turkey (TUSEB) brought the efforts to their current advanced stage.
Koca said the Turkish vaccine’s safety and efficacy were proved in Phase 1 and Phase 2 studies.
“Today, the vaccine has reached its final phase, which means its formulation will not change from now on. This is the pride of our nation, this pride belongs to our nation,” he said.
“Now we will see the efficacy of the vaccine on volunteers during the Phase 3 trials. And we want to see the efficacy of the vaccine, which will be used widely afterwards,” he added.
Ozdarendeli said with the development of the vaccine, Turkey reaped the fruit of its investments in science since 2013, adding that Turkey has very good experience and infrastructure not only now but also for future diseases that may arise.
Unal also said they are proud of the contributions they have made to vaccine development and that they will share their work with the world.
Since Turkey launched a mass vaccination campaign this January, nearly 43.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered.
Over 29 million people have received their first doses, while over 14.57 million have been fully vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry.
Amid a nationwide fall in COVID-19 cases, Turkey is set to end pandemic curfews as of next Thursday, July 1, Erdogan said on Monday.
That same day Turkey will also lift intercity travel restrictions and restrictions on urban public transport, and public institutions and organizations will return to normal working order.