"A feeling of indescribable happiness overwhelmed me," said Dr. Hakan Oguzturk of the Ankara City Hospital as he talked about his experience of getting vaccinated. He is one of the 1.46 million people in Turkey who have already received a dose of Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac.
Turkey purchased 50 million doses of China's CoronaVac, and has received a total of 9.5 million doses so far.
Dr Oguzturk said getting vaccinated felt like getting a 1-0 lead against a difficult opponent. He believed that "the most effective weapon we have to stop the virus will be the vaccine" and therefore the public must get vaccinated "without hesitation."
In Turkey, the total number of coronavirus cases has surpassed 2.44 million. The vaccinations started on January 14. The country has lost over 25,476 people to COVID-19. The health ministry is rolling out vaccines in four stages, with health workers being the first ones to receive the jab.
A medical worker at the emergency ward of Ankara's Ozgur Hakan Buyukpoyraz hospital said he had no doubts about the vaccine's efficacy and safety.
"I experienced some muscle pain during the first day, but had no other trouble. It was very similar to any other vaccine I have had in the past. I believe getting vaccinated is an important part of protecting myself and those around me."
The health ministry is currently administering two doses 28 days apart. As the vaccination program continues – the government hasn't lifted restrictions it imposed in December. A nationwide weekday curfew and weekend lockdown are still in place.
Dr Tevfik Ozlu, a member of Turkey's Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, warned citizens to abide by the measures even if they had received the vaccine. "Only 15 days after the second dose does the antibodies reach a certain level. Therefore, it provides protection only one and a half months after the first dose," he said.
"Moreover, it is not clear whether it provides protection against transmitting the microbe. Vaccinated people must follow the precautions as those who haven't," added Dr. Ozlu, noting that 80 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to curb the pandemic.
Dr Bilge Karaca, an emergency specialist, said her father was crying when he watched vaccinations begin on the evening news, a moment that gave her joy. "I'm proud of this sacred profession we do as healthcare professionals. Thanks to immunity we will gain with the vaccine, we will continue our duty without interruption," she said.
In the current stage, on January 28 the government began vaccinating those over the age of 75. Daily cases have dropped significantly, with an average of 6,000 cases reported during the last week of January as compared with over 33,000 daily cases in early December.