COVID19: Turkish Cypriots launch vaccination program

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Turkish Cypriots on Friday launched their vaccination program against COVID-19 after receiving the first 20,000 vaccines from Chinese Pharmaceutical Sinovac.

The inoculation process launched with the inoculation of Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tater, the head of the ruling coalition Ersan Saner and health authorities chief Ali Pilli.

After receiving the first of his two doses of the vaccine Pilli, said the north’s vaccination program will continue with the inoculation of 5,000 health workers.

In comments to Turkish Cypriot media Pilli appeared quite cheerful, telling reporters that he did not feel a thing, praising health workers for their ‘light hand’.

Following the inoculation of all health workers, those over 85 are next.

According to data given by Pilli, there are 331,000 people in the age group of 0 to 59, 29,000 aged 60 to 70, 15,000 between 71 and 80, 5,000 over 80, and another 873 people who are over 90.

The first phase of the north’s vaccination program is expected to be completed within 15 days.

“We are expecting another 500,000 vaccines from Turkey. If these vaccines arrive as scheduled, then we could complete our vaccination program by 28 February,” said Pilli.

Turkish Cypriot authorities and scientists are relying on COVID-19 vaccines from China.

The north will be primarily using Sinovac, a vaccine yet to be approved by the EU, but reported to have an efficacy of 78% against the coronavirus.

It will also receive a batch of vaccines from the EU, through the Republic of Cyprus.

Pilli had earlier said that Turkish Cypriots expect a batch of 400,000 doses from the European Union through the Republic of Cyprus.

President Nicos Anastasiades confirmed last week that his government is arranging to cover the entire population of Cyprus, Greek Cypriots, and Turkish Cypriots.

The first batch of 2,000 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, from those allocated to the Republic of Cyprus by the EU, will be handed over to Turkish Cypriots next week.

The Greek Cypriot head of the Bicommunal Technical Committee on Health, Leonidas Phylactou said that the first 1,000 allocated for Turkish Cypriots will be delivered on Monday.

It is understood that vaccines will be used within days after delivery, as they need to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius and there is no appropriate equipment for transportation.

“The remaining 1,000 doses will be stored appropriately, until the time for the second inoculation comes. They may be delivered earlier to the Turkish Cypriots if appropriate transportation is found,” Phylactou said.

A Pfizer official visited Cyprus recently and went to the occupied north while staff that will carry out the vaccinations to the Turkish Cypriots have been trained.

However, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar complicated matters when he told UN chief of mission, Elizabeth Spehar, that Turkish Cypriot authorities would not accept EU vaccines through the Republic.

He argued that vaccines should come directly from the European Union.

Tatar’s comments caused a fierce reaction from the majority of the opposition parties in the north, with Tufan Erhurman, the leader of the main opposition Turkish Republican Party (CTP) accusing Tatar of sabotaging the north’s vaccination program for political gain.

“This vaccine is not for the sake of the south or the EU, it is the right of our people to health. No to political games,” Erhurman said.

The north is heading for an early general election sometime between April and October, following a failure of political parties to elect a leader of the Turkish Cypriot assembly.

Meanwhile, January is already the deadliest month for the Turkish Cypriot community, as authorities in the north have reported four COVID-19 related deaths, out of a total of 10 since the pandemic started in March.

So far this month, Turkish Cypriot health authorities have reported 276 cases with January on its way to becoming the worst month for new COVID-19 infections.

Authorities in the north announced another 21 cases of SARS-CoV-2 on Thursday, raising the total to 1,850 and 10 deaths.