• Kyodo

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The third batch of Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Japan on Monday as the country prepares to expand its inoculation program for health care workers.

The shipment of up to 526,500 doses of the Pfizer shot, the first vaccine against the novel coronavirus that Japan has approved for use, was delivered to Narita Airport from Belgium, where they were produced.

Including the shipment, the government has said it will receive up to 2.66 million doses, with six shots taken from a single vaccine bottle, in March alone.

As for vaccines from other drugmakers, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference Monday that a clinical study is underway in Japan for U.S. company Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine, which the U.S. government approved for emergency use last week.

It is raising hopes for a simpler mass inoculation process, given that the two other U.S.-approved vaccines from Pfizer and Modern Inc. require two shots. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine can be stored for three months at normal refrigerator temperatures and has a two-year shelf-life when frozen.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has confirmed the safety of the vaccine based on data provided by the major U.S. pharmaceutical company from a late-stage clinical trial.

The shot is 66% effective overall in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 cases 28 days after vaccination, according to the data. For severe cases alone, it was about 85% effective.

Japan launched the first phase of its vaccination program for 40,000 medical workers at 100 hospitals nationwide on Feb. 17 as part of efforts to examine the safety of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE.

Full-scale inoculation for 4.7 million health care workers will begin this week, after the doses have been distributed to local governments tasked with administering shots across the country.

Around 36 million people age 65 and older are expected to receive vaccinations from April 12, followed by those with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, and workers at elderly care facilities, and then finally the general population.

Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the inoculation rollout, has explained that the government aims to deliver doses necessary to inoculate more than 40 million people — health care workers and older citizens — to local governments by the end of June.

The government has reached a broad agreement with Pfizer over the mass procurement, although the drugmaker is supposed to obtain approval from the European Union, which controls the export of coronavirus vaccines produced within its bloc, according to Kono.

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