Turkey recently joined the list of nine countries to develop and produce its own coronavirus vaccine with Turkovac, but it does not plan to stop there with vaccine development. A vaccine and biotechnology “base” will be built in the capital Ankara and will be operational by the end of 2022.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the work is a tribute to the legacy of Refik Saydam, the country’s fourth prime minister and a doctor who founded Hıfzısıhha, or Public Health Institute, decades ago.
The vaccine and biotechnology center, which will be equipped with smart building technology, will be built under a tender that is now in its final stages and is at the heart of Turkey’s efforts to raise its profile as a self-reliant country in health care. Koca says Turkey aims to be stronger and more ambitious 25 years after ceasing to produce its own vaccines. The last vaccine produced was a Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine against tuberculosis. Koca notes that Turkey had two centuries of experience in vaccine production and tried to revive it in the early years of the Republic of Turkey, but the production of a “100%” locally made vaccine by cells began five decades later.
The center will cover an area of 50,000 square meters (538,195 square feet) and draw on resources from the Ministry of Health, universities and the private sector in terms of vaccine development and production capacity. The facility will serve as a location for research and development and production of vaccines and genetic products. It will produce inactive messenger RNA (mRNA), nasal and adenovirus vaccines against the coronavirus. The minister said they originally planned technology transfer from South Korea and Japan to enhance the center’s potential.
Vaccine production is crucial for countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the world scrambles to secure vaccine supplies. Turkey started working on developing its own vaccine in the early days of the pandemic as it offered China’s CoronaVac, an inactive vaccine like Turkovac, and Pfizer-BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine to the public. Turkovac is now open to the public and hospitals in the city began administering the first injections on Thursday. It will soon be available at all other vaccination locations. Koca said scientists are now studying the vaccine’s effectiveness against the rapidly spreading omicron variant. He added that they currently have 135,000 doses of Turkovac and will produce 3 million doses of vaccines over the next three months.