Turkey’s Kırklareli leads in COVID-19 jabs, aims to keep title

Kırklareli has few rivals when it comes to vaccination rates. The province in Turkey’s northwest is slightly more populated than several provinces in the country’s southeast which have scored the lowest in terms of vaccination rates. Yet, it has managed to vaccinate 90% of its population at the age of 18 and above with one dose in the nine months since Turkey kicked off its vaccination program. Governor Osman Bilgin, who recovered from the coronavirus last year, says they aim to reach the same rate for the second dose of vaccine within six months.

With a vaccination rate of %76.9, the province competes with Muğla and Amasya which both have a 76.3% vaccination rate. Its neighbor Edirne boasts a 75.7% vaccination rate. Overall, seven provinces are in the coveted “blue” category on the Health Ministry’s color-coded vaccination map, which represents low coronavirus risk based on vaccination levels.

To boost inoculation levels, the local branch of the Directorate of Health set up vaccination venues at bus stations, parks, school courtyards and other busy locations. In rural parts of Kırklareli, health care crews go door to door to reach out to the unvaccinated.

Authorities say “vaccination mobilization” is the key to increasing the rate and lowering the number of coronavirus cases. The latest figures, for the period of Sept. 4 and Sept. 10, show Kırklareli had around 57 cases per 100,000, far lower than 465 cases in Bayburt, which had the highest weekly number of cases.

Bilgin told Anadolu Agency (AA) Thursday that he was grateful to the people of Kırklareli and health care workers who worked day and night to inoculate residents. “Their work made Kırklareli an example to Turkey. We are proud to be number one in Turkey in two-dose vaccination. We would not succeed if people did not show interest in the vaccination,” he said. Bilgin said almost all health care workers, from family physicians to nurses contact people to invite them to vaccination. “We cooperate with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to extend our outreach,” he added.

The governor urged more people to get vaccinated on time, while adhering to coronavirus measures, referring to protective masks, practicing good hygiene and social distancing rules.

“We need to achieve mass immunity and it is possible by reaching a vaccination rate above 80% but in a short span, rather than achieving it over a longer period (where vaccines may lose their initial efficiency),” he said. He noted that they also witnessed a drop in severe COVID-19 cases thanks to vaccination, which reduces the impact of the disease on the infected. He also called upon the public not to heed anti-vaxxers’ speculations, saying: “I think people should ignore all statements (by anti-vaxxers) and heed the statements of officials only, particularly Health Ministry.”

The country administered more than 106 million doses of COVID-19 jabs since it began its vaccination program with health care workers in January 2021. This includes 42.9 million people who received their two doses of vaccine, something necessary to achieve mass immunity to eliminate the pandemic.

Since June, the vaccination program has been open for all citizens aged 18 and above. In August, the eligibility age was further lowered to 15. Previously, an appointment had to be made a few days in advance but now same-day appointments for vaccination are available and in less crowded places, there is no need for an appointment at all.

Vaccination booths are ubiquitous in the country, everywhere from shopping malls to busy squares, for those avoiding hospitals or clinics. The Turkish public is being offered the inactive vaccine CoronaVac by China’s Sinovac and the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech. A locally made vaccine is expected to be available soon as well.

Vaccine hesitancy remains the biggest challenge for the country. Social media is awash with posts by anti-vaxxers and vaccine skeptics voicing their concerns about the jabs. Conspiracy theories about “tracking chips” being used in vaccines and unproven allegations that jabs cause infertility and make people “magnetic” proliferate. Officials repeatedly call on the public to get vaccinated as scientists strive to assure the public that the vaccines are safe.