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The European Union has approved exports of novel coronavirus vaccines to Japan for the first time, EU sources said Friday.

The shipment approval is believed to have been given to the vaccines manufactured in Belgium by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.

The health ministry is expected to hold a committee meeting on Friday to decide whether to grant a pharmaceutical approval to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccines for administration in Japan.

The EU's export approval allows the government to have a clearer picture about implementing its plan to start coronavirus vaccinations in mid-February.

In late January, the EU introduced an advance approval system for exports of COVID-19 vaccines manufactured within the European bloc. As the measure enables the EU to halt exports in cases judged as detrimental to supply contracts signed between the EU and each vaccine maker, there were concerns that vaccine shipments bound for Japan may be affected.

On Feb. 1, during a teleconference call with officials of the European Commission, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi sought the EU's cooperation over the supply of vaccines. The EU promised to do its best to ensure exports.

Pfizer has concluded a contract with Japan to supply vaccine doses for around 72 million people in the country by the end of the year. Amid the brewing global vaccine battle, however, countries are facing the challenge of securing a stable supply of vaccines.

Japan has agreed to secure more than 140 million doses from Pfizer, 120 million from AstraZeneca PLC of Britain and 50 million from U.S. firm Moderna Inc., the health ministry has said.

The health ministry said last week it is considering offering group vaccinations to people age under 65 at their workplaces, in addition to vaccinations carried out by municipalities.

Vaccine minister Taro Kono has said vaccinations for older people will not begin before April, while the exact schedule for the general public has not been announced.

Prefectural governors across the nation drafted several emergency requests to the central government on Saturday, including such measures as drafting realistic schedules for the vaccination process that reflect input from prefectural governments and local municipalities.

The requests put together by the National Governors’ Association also include financial support for municipalities to ease the burden on local governments.

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