Turkey receives first shipment of Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from China’s Sinovac early on Wednesday, Reuters television footage showed, almost a week after Ankara said the vaccine was safe and effective, based on interim Phase III trial results.

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The shipment of 3 million doses, part of a pact for a total of 50 million, was initially set to arrive on Dec. 11 but faced setbacks.

The first batch of vaccines was loaded from airplanes on to trucks at the capital’s Esenboga Airport before being taken to the storage facilities of the health ministry.

On Twitter, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said authorities would begin inoculations after testing the vaccines, a process that will take 14 days.

Turkey plans first doses for health workers and those older than 65, the ministry has said, followed by those older than 50 and suffering at least one chronic illness, in addition to those in specific sectors or high-risk environments.

The third group will include young adults and sectors not included in prior groups. A fourth group covers all the rest not listed.

Last week, Turkish researchers said interim analysis showed the vaccine was 91.25% effective.

Although, at the time, Koca said authorities were certain the vaccine was effective and safe, the trial data, based on 29 infections, was seen as too limited for final approvals.

This week, two Turkish doctors told Reuters that at least a couple more weeks were probably needed for the Sinovac trial results to prove decisive, since the sample size needed to grow.

Sinovac is seeking to consolidate data from global trials in countries such as Brazil, Chile, Indonesia and Turkey.

Separately, Turkey has agreed with Pfizer and BioNTech to supply 4.5 million doses of their vaccine, while working to develop its own at home. It also aims to produce Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine domestically.

Reporting by Mert Ozkan; Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez