• Kyodo, JIJI


Japan is hoping to conduct an orderly rollout of COVID-19 vaccines starting early next year that will involve thousands of freezers, a reservation system and the repurposing of nonmedical facilities as vaccination sites.

The plan was approved by a health ministry panel of experts Thursday ahead of the potential March start of the country’s mass vaccination program.

The ministry said it plans to secure 10,500 freezers capable of storing vaccines, allowing them to be distributed across the country.

The ministry said in addition to medical facilities, vaccinations should be carried out at public health centers, gymnasiums, event venues and shopping malls, adding that those being administered the vaccine must make a reservation in advance with authorities in the cities, towns or villages in which they are registered as residents.

As the soon-to-be-available COVID-19 vaccines must be stored at low temperatures, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will secure about 3,000 freezers with the capacity to store items at minus 75 C and about 7,500 freezers capable of storing items at minus 20 C. It will also procure dry ice and cooler boxes for vaccination centers.

The vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE is required to be stored at minus 70 C or lower, while U.S. biotech firm Moderna Inc.’s can be shipped and stored over a six-month period if kept at a standard freezer temperature of minus 20 C.

Ahead of Japan and other developed nations, Britain on Tuesday started its COVID-19 vaccination program using the Pfizer vaccine.

The United States is also expected to begin its vaccination campaign soon as its Food and Drug Administration could authorize the Pfizer vaccine as early as this week.

As vaccinations could begin as early as March in Japan, the ministry will ask municipalities to prepare necessary venues and systems to accept reservations.

Japan has agreed with Pfizer, Moderna, and Britain’s AstraZeneca PLC to receive sufficient numbers of vaccine doses to cover the entire population and more, earmarking ¥671.4 billion for that purpose.

The Pfizer vaccine is projected to be delivered in batches of 1,000 doses. The shot needs to be administered within approximately 10 days when stored in cooler boxes with dry ice.

Local governments will discuss whether they should designate a vaccination date and time for residents of each area to avoid overcrowding at venues.

The ministry is also planning to develop a system that will enable it to share information about stocks of vaccine doses at medical institutions with local governments and distributors, so as to help them avoid allocation problems as much as possible.

On Tuesday, British medical analytics firm Airfinity Ltd. estimated that Japanese society would fully return to normal from the novel coronavirus crisis in April 2022, with the country projected to be the last developed nation to do so due to a slower anticipated rollout of vaccines.

Airfinity projected how fast nations and regions will be able to normalize through large-scale vaccinations and achieving herd immunity.

The United States is expected to see the fastest recovery, in April 2021. Canada, Britain, the European Union and Australia will also likely achieve recoveries next year, in June, July, September and December, respectively.

Countries with large populations will be slow to recover, projected Airfinity, with China expected to return to normal in October 2022 and India in February 2023.

Airfinity Chief Executive Officer Rasmus Hansen told a news conference that most people in the world are expected to acquire immunity to the coronavirus by the end of next year although this depends on whether vaccines can be mass-produced.

Note: This story was merged with an earlier story from Jiji story about an analytics firm’s prediction regarding global recovery times.

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