Erdoğan lauds vaccination campaign amid reports of health minister resignation

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday expressed his gratitude for the country’s healthcare workers on the occasion of national Medicine Day while praising the staff for their efforts in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkey is among the “leaders of the world in its vaccination campaign”, an edge that is attributable to the country’s healthcare workers who are working “at a relentless pace”, Duvar news website cited Erdoğan as saying in a letter.

Turkey kicked off a mass vaccination campaign in mid-January with China’s CoronaVac vaccine, with healthcare workers, teachers and the elderly being given priority.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca last month said that the country intended to vaccinate 60 percent of its population of 82 million. The ministry earlier this week announced that 10 million people had been vaccinated and 2.5 million had received two shots of the jab.

But the programme has come under criticism for starting late and thevaccination rate per capita being lower than its counterparts in the West at 1.4 per 100 people. The country has registered more than 29,000 deaths , and cases stand at over 2.8 million.

According to a statement by the Turkish Medical Association, at least 385 healthcare workers have lost their lives in the pandemic.

On Saturday, Turkey saw 15,082 new cases as the rate of occupancy for ICUs rose to 62.4 percent.

In a separate video message on Sunday, Koca vowed to continue to fight against the deadly virus.

“If there is a need for us, we are there without any buts or ifs,” Koca said. “I would like to thank you on behalf of our nation.”

Koca on Sunday was absent from the funeral of the mother of Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who died on Saturday after contracting the coronavirus, T24 news site reported.

The country’s top health official had come under fire last month for attending the crowded funeral of Muslim scholar Emin Saraç in Istanbul, forcing him to issue an apology.

Meanwhile, an opposition lawmaker on Sunday alleged that Koca may “disappear”, like former finance minister and Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, after sharing data and deadlines on the battle against COVID-19 that fail to materialise.

“In January, (the health ministry) said 20 million more doses of the vaccine would arrive, but it still hasn’t. They then resorted to refraining from announcing how many doses of the jab had arrived,” Cumhuriyet newspaper cited Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Gamze Taşçıer as saying.

Taşçıer said the ministry continued to push back the date on the arrival of vaccines.

“Mr. Albayrak did the same thing, sharing dates and numbers that never materialised. Don’t be surprised if Mr Koca disappears from our lives one day,” the CHP deputy said in an apparent reference to Albayrak’s surprise resignation in November.

Bergen newspaper on Sunday also reported that Koca may be among the ministers to be replaced in an cabinet reshuffle by the end of the month.