• Kyodo, AFP-JIJI


Japan aims to start vaccinating the general public against the coronavirus in May — just two months before the postponed Olympics — after giving shots to the most vulnerable.

The Yomiuri Shimbun said the government is hoping the majority of adults will be vaccinated by July, when the games are due to open.

The country has agreed with pharmaceutical firms to receive enough doses for all 126 million residents and is working to approve the Pfizer shot as the first to be used in Japan from late February. The government is considering limiting the inoculations to residents age 16 and older, taking into account the ages of people who took part in the clinical trials overseas.

Vaccinations are slated to begin in Japan by late February, starting with medical workers, followed by people age 65 or older from late March, then people with pre-existing conditions and those caring for the elderly.

Around 10,000 medical workers will be first in line for the free inoculation, top government officials have said, followed by 50 million at-risk people including those with underlying conditions and the over-65s.

Tokyo 2020’s opening ceremony is in six months, but a surge in COVID-19 infections in Japan and worldwide has cast fresh doubt over the event.

Public support for the Olympics has plummeted, with more than 80% of people recently polled saying they should be cancelled or postponed again.

Asked about Wednesday’s reports, top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said it was too early to announce a vaccination schedule.

“Vaccination will begin only after the vaccine is approved,” he said.

However, experts have warned that vaccine hesitancy in Japan may cloud its rollout.

Just 60% of Japanese respondents in an international survey published in December said they want the vaccine, compared with 80% in China, 75% in South Korea and 69% in the United States.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who turned 72 last month, falls in the second category and will be inoculated when his turn comes, said an official from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Administrative reform minister Taro Kono, who was appointed to lead the vaccination efforts this week, promised the swift distribution of doses across the country.

Health minister Norihisa Tamura said for vaccinations to move forward according to the government’s timeline, approval would need to come in mid-February.

The distribution of the vaccines poses various logistical challenges, including the need to store some types at subzero temperatures.

Suga has vowed to secure vaccines for Japan’s population of 126 million by the first half of 2021, with the government having agreements with Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca PLC and Moderna Inc. to receive enough doses for 145 million people.

Suga declared a monthlong state of emergency on Jan. 7 for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, later expanding it to another seven prefectures.

Under the state of emergency, people are urged to refrain from going outside unnecessarily and restaurants are asked to shorten their opening hours.

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