Turkey is moving towards a vaccine mandate for teachers, students and their families as the rate of inoculation slows and infections surge.
Fahrettin Koca, the country’s health minister, said “face-to-face education is a must” and the government will implement measures so that teachers, eligible students and the families they live with receive their shots. Those who remain unvaccinated, especially parents, may have to show negative Covid-19 test results, he said.
“Until now, our vaccination programme has been a matter of encouragement and preference. However, it is now a social duty that cannot be left to the choice of each citizen,” Koca said in a televised speech after meeting with his coronavirus task force.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, later said he did not believe a vaccine mandate would violate human rights and a decision on opening schools would come at a cabinet meeting next week.
The country’s education minister resigned last week amid teachers’ criticism that schools were not prepared to re-open safely as planned on September 6. Most of Turkey’s 18.2m primary and high school students have been learning remotely since March 2020, with only intermittent in-person instruction.
Vaccines are available for everyone 18 years or older in Turkey. About 37 per cent of the population of 84m people have received two doses, according to health ministry data.
Turkey recorded 27,356 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, compared with about 4,000 at the start of July, when coronavirus restrictions were eased.
Koca also said the country planned to publish in a scientific journal its findings on the effectiveness of a third dose of the vaccine. The highest rate of protection had been among individuals who received three doses of the “inactive vaccine”, he said, and the next-best level of protection was for those who had two doses of the inactive vaccine and a third dose of an mRNA vaccine.
Healthcare workers and people 50 years and older have been offered a third dose since the end of the June. Turkey has administered both the Chinese-made CoronaVac with an inactivated pathogen and Pfizer/BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine, a new technology that instructs cells to produce a protein that triggers an immune response.