As Japan struggles to procure COVID-19 vaccines from foreign manufactures in a timely manner, the government has backpedaled on its plan to let people choose which vaccine to get, with its vaccinations chief saying nothing has been decided yet.
Fumiaki Kobayashi, a senior Cabinet Office official for the vaccination campaign, said on a TV program Sunday that the government will give people the choice by making information available on which type of vaccine is offered at each vaccination site.
Kobayashi said some people are reluctant to get vaccinated due to concerns about side effects. “We’ll create an environment where people have a choice,” he said.
But on Tuesday, Taro Kono, minister in charge of vaccine rollout, denied such a plan existed. “That was totally misleading. I would like to retract that comment and apologize,” Kono said at a news conference.
The nation’s vaccination campaign began in February, using Pfizer Inc.’s shot and starting with medical workers. Inoculations for older people are due to begin on April 12. AstraZeneca PLC and Moderna Inc. have also applied to have their vaccines approved for use in Japan.
Kono also said he urged the health ministry to modify information on its website, as it may give an impression that people can actually choose which vaccine to get.
Japan on Monday received its seventh batch of the Pfizer vaccine as the country continues to inoculate health care workers in the first stage of its vaccine rollout.
Vaccinations for people age 65 and over are set to begin April 12 across the country, but the initial rollout will be limited and uneven at the local level, Kono said in an interview Monday.
“It will be very slow,” Kono said. “The prefectural governors asked us to go slowly so that they can check the systems and so that all the cities and towns can get ready for the vaccinations.”
One time-consuming issue slowing the rollout is the need for doctors to learn a new technical system to track vaccine numbers, Kono said.
Japan is still limiting COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers, with more than 780,000 first vaccine doses administered in Japan as of Monday — a number that accounts for less than 1% of its more than 125 million residents.
The country’s vaccination plan has been scrutinized for its slow pace compared to other developed countries and its Asian neighbors, especially as Tokyo prepares to host the Olympics in July with no timeline on when most people will be inoculated.
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