Mardin, Turkey (AP) – In the medieval Turkish city of Mardin, Medin Ereli calls out for a team of medical workers who walk along the city’s main cobbled street. Her 59-year-old husband refuses to be vaccinated, she tells the doctor and nurse, before driving them to Enver Ereli, who works as a municipal cleaner.
The masked healthcare couple is part of Turkey’s “vaccination persuasion” teams, a recent initiative aimed at boosting coronavirus vaccination among the country’s most vulnerable populations.
Their job is to convince people who fall into the eligible age brackets, but who are so far hesitant to get their vaccinations.
At the start of the vaccination program, some elderly people did not trust the vaccine amid rumors that it was part of a plot to kill an older population, said Dr. Aysegol Doyan, who was on the road with nurse Meltim Gulkan.
“Soon they saw that this was not the case,” she said. “At the present time, they are mostly concerned about rumors that might cause paralysis.”
Mobile door-to-door units – equipped with coolers that hold vaccine bottles – have been operating in several Turkish provinces since April. At local health offices, more government employees are reaching people by phone to try to change their minds.
Health Minister Fakhruddin Kujah said 84% of residents aged 65 and over eligible to be vaccinated have so far received COVID-19 shots. The government aims to raise this figure to over 90%.
In Mardin, the team talked with Ereli to get his shot and the nurse took his first jab while he was sitting on a close edge.
I was afraid to get sick and be paralyzed. But then, the medical teams told me this was for my benefit and I believed them and got the vaccine, ”Ereli said.
It was the team’s first successful effort that day as they were escorted by an AP camera around Mardin, a culturally and historically diverse region in southern Turkey, bordering Mesopotamia and bordering Syria.
In Mardin alone, their efforts have resulted in the vaccination of nearly 8,000 people, according to the regional health director.
Dr. Safit Yavuz said: “Village after village, village after village, small village, wherever they are. We went and spoke with them face to face or on the phone and we convinced them.”
Sari Onsell, 75, a resident of the village of Gokchi, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Mardin, was among those who pushed to get the shot.
“Everyone kept telling me that I would be paralyzed and die if I got the vaccination.” She said, “So I refused, and I did not understand.” “But the government sent us doctors and they brought us in and got vaccinated.
Turkey has fully vaccinated about 14% of its population of 83 million. About 16 million people received their first vaccine.
Last week, the number of daily COVID-19 infections in Turkey fell below 10,000 for the first time since March 1, after reaching a record high of more than 63,000 daily cases in mid-April.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health recorded 9375 new cases and 175 deaths during the past 24 hours. The total death toll in the country has reached 46,621, with more than 5.2 million infections since the start of the outbreak.
Ice Whiting in Istanbul and Suzanne Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.
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