Turkey expects China COVID-19 vaccine in days, as doctors seek more data

Ece Toksabay and Can Sezer
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Illustration of vials and dry ice

By Ece Toksabay and Can Sezer

ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Turkey would receive the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines developed by China's Sinovac this week, remaining focused on its rollout even as doctors awaited a fuller picture of trial results.

Turkey has agreed to buy 50 million doses of Sinovac's CoronaVac and had expected delivery by Dec. 11, but the shipment has faced delays.

Last week, Turkish researchers said the shot was 91.25% effective based on an interim analysis. However, while Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said last week "we are now certain the vaccine is effective and safe", the trial data, based on 29 infections, was seen as too limited for final approvals.

Erdogan told a press conference Turkey had worked on eight different vaccines, and that one of these studies had started the final phase. "We expect to receive the first shipment of vaccines we bought from China before the new year," he said.

Sinovac is seeking to consolidate data from global trials that include Indonesia, Chile, Turkey and Brazil. Brazil has reported the vaccine's efficacy at between 50% and 90%, having delayed the release of data three times.

Two Turkish doctors told Reuters at least a couple more weeks were likely needed for the Sinovac trial results to be decisive since the sample size needs to grow.

"Sinovac's CoronaVac tests are taking longer than those of Moderna and Pfizer" due to a lower placebo ratio, said Mustafa Cankurtaran, head of the geriatrics department at Ankara's Hacettepe School of Medicine.

"This means it takes longer for COVID-19 cases to appear among the test population and takes longer to reach the statistically more significant 40-50 positive cases," he said.

It is likely that "one more month of trials is needed", Cankurtaran added.

Vedat Bulut, secretary general of the Turkish Medical Association - which has criticised Ankara's pandemic-related transparency and containment measures this year - told Reuters he expected a clearer picture soon.

"At this point in time, we do not have enough data to say that this vaccine is effective and protective," he said.

"When we have the results of Phase III trials, which are expected in two weeks after the (global) data ... are combined into one study, we will know whether this vaccine is effective and protective."

(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Jan Harvey)