ISTANBUL, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- Ahead of the influenza season, demands mount for flu vaccines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but Turkey has imported a limited number of doses, stirring debate on how to use them fairly.
The Turkish Pharmacists' Association (TEB) has recently stated that there was already a shortage of flu vaccines last year when the COVID-19 outbreak didn't start. It also noted that the uncertainty about how the vaccines would be distributed this year is alarming.
Public health specialists stress the importance of the vaccination of those over 65 years old, younger than five, and with a chronic disease as the global health crisis rages.
The number of people who are recommended to have a flu vaccination is over 20 million in Turkey, nearly 25 percent of its population, according to TEB.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday that Turkey procured 1.35 million doses of flu vaccines in 2019, and this number would exceed 1.5 million in 2020.
"We are striving to increase this even more," he said and dismissed concerns of a shortage.
In a written statement, his ministry said "contacts" were established to obtain more flu vaccines than previous years, but limited production supplies worldwide mean Turkey will receive them "gradually."
The ministry said vaccinations would be gradual, and it would prioritize those classified as "at risk". Citizens can find out whether they are prioritized based on health status through a Health Ministry app called "e-nabiz", which tracks the health condition of users with data collected from their hospital visits.
The doctor's prescription will be sent to an online system that tracks each case, and the vaccines will be available in pharmacies only.
Nevertheless, this topic has created a buzz on social media, and many people are critical of the move, asking why they are not eligible for the vaccines.
"I am 82 years old, with high blood pressure, and I also suffer from heart problems. However, I have been told that I'm not among the people who will receive the flu vaccine at this stage," complained Ayser Akinci, a pensioner from capital Ankara.
"I am already afraid of getting infected with the coronavirus, and the lack of flu vaccines is making me really anxious," she told Xinhua, calling on the government to procure urgently more for all the elderly.
Many pharmacies are also swamped with vaccine demands from their customers.
"We have depleted our little stock and are waiting for a new order later this month, but people keep asking us every day," Mustafa Saglam, a pharmacy owner from Ankara's residential Cankaya district, told Xinhua.
"We are asking our clients to write their names on a waiting list, and we will notify them when vaccines arrive. They will then receive the shots, only if they are in the at-risk group and eligible for the vaccine," he said.
Last week, the health minister issued warnings about a potential rise in infectious diseases due to flu season, while several Turkish big cities have seen a new spike in COVID-19 cases, reaching levels in early May when restrictions were still in place.
"We have entered the fall season, which poses a considerable threat compared with summer months. We will spend the majority of our time in indoor places. That means the coronavirus will have a greater chance to spread as we will have difficulty maintaining social distance," Koca said at a press conference on Monday.
Almost all restrictions were lifted in June. The government has since enforced measures such as social distancing and wearing masks and has imposed fines on those who break the rules.
Officials say new lockdowns and other stricter measures are currently not on the agenda despite a surge in the new cases.