ANKARA: Turkey is battling an acute shortage of vaccines as the country enters an 18-day lockdown to curb the highest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection rates in Europe.
Despite the shortage, which is expected to last for two months, Ankara is still sending vaccines to Libya, sparking opposition anger. It claims that the ruling Justice and Development Party cannot manage the pandemic effectively.
Meral Danis Bestas, group deputy chairwoman of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, said Turkey has been sending COVID-19 vaccines to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants, who have been deployed to Libya since early 2020 to fight alongside the Government of National Accord.
“Even when it is impossible to get vaccinated in exchange for a fee, the limited amount of vaccines are being sent the FSA in Libya,” she said.
Turkey has received 28 million doses so far, and only 8 million doses are left, which does not meet the needs of those waiting for a second dose.
Opposition parties have blamed the critical shortage of vaccines on the over-dependence on China. They accuse Beijing of using vaccine procurement as a bargaining chip to convince Turkey to extradite Uighurs who fled to the country.
The slightest disagreement between the two countries has led to occasional halts in vaccine supply.
“The negotiations about the vaccine were carried out by the foreign minister and not the health minister. Therefore, the failures in foreign policy have reached such a point that public safety is threatened,” Bestas said.
Turkey had only relied on using vaccines developed by China’s Sinovac. Ankara recently approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech.
The country also increased intervals between two doses for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from four to eight weeks.
Elsewhere, in a long-awaited move, Turkey has signed a deal for 50 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which will start arriving next month and should help address a short-term fall in supply. But it has been revealed that the Turkish company which signed the agreement with Russia is owned by a former AKP local official.
On Thursday, the Ankara office of Turkey’s Healthcare and Social Service Laborers Union advised Health Minister Fahrettin Koca to stop giving promises about vaccinations in the country and criticized him for being distanced from science and reality.
In September 2020, Koca publicly announced that 50 million doses of Chinese vaccines were coming, but a fall in supply soon followed.