Health minister Norihisa Tamura said he’s hoping Pfizer Inc.’s coronavirus vaccine will be approved by mid-February under an accelerated process.
Tamura’s comments came after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated this week that the government was preparing to start the inoculation program in late February, and added that local governments were readying vaccination centers.
“We need to do it as fast as possible,” Tamura said Friday in an interview in Tokyo. “If all goes well, I would like to see the approval in about mid-February.”
Data from overseas has already been examined, while information from Pfizer’s trials in Japan is set to arrive before the end of this month and will be analyzed to reach a final decision, he said.
Japan is set to begin its vaccination process about two months later than some Western countries because of its requirement for extra trials conducted on Japanese people. The vaccines will be provided free of charge and medical personnel will get top priority, followed by older people. Suga, 72, has said he will be among the first to receive the vaccine.
The government has sealed a contract for 120 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, enough for 60 million of the country’s 126 million people, by the end of June. Pfizer is the only company so far to have applied for emergency approval for its vaccine, but Japan also has contracts with Moderna Inc., AstraZeneca PLC and Novavax Inc.
Clinical trials in Japan of the Moderna vaccine will be conducted from late January, with second doses to be completed in early March, and blood samples sent to the U.S. a month after that, Tamura said. The Moderna vaccine may benefit from the accelerated process used for the Pfizer version, with the application accepted before the Japan trial data is submitted, Tamura said.
Asked about the U.K.’s plan to roll out single doses of vaccines to more people before administering second doses, Tamura said Japan was not thinking of following suit but would be monitoring the results.
A poll carried out by the Yomiuri newspaper in December found that 84% of respondents wanted to be vaccinated, but only 15% wanted to receive their dose immediately. The remaining 69% said they were in no rush.
Japan has so far recorded just over 4,000 deaths from the coronavirus, compared with about 86,000 in the U.K., whose population is approximately half the size.
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