The first doses of Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine will begin to be administered to 40,000 essential workers across 100 medical facilities on Wednesday, Taro Kono, the Cabinet minister in charge of vaccines, said during a news conference Tuesday.
The same workers will receive their second dose beginning March 10.
Kono said it is possible that other medical workers — those who do not fall into the initial category — could receive their first dose before March 10 once second doses for essential workers are secured.
The vaccination of older people will start April 1 at the earliest, beginning after medical workers have received their shots, Kono said, adding that municipal governments have been encouraged to spend no longer than two months and three weeks to complete this next phase of the process.
The vaccination of the rest of the population will officially begin after that, though it is possible ongoing vaccinations of one prioritized group may overlap with the next.
Separate vaccines from Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca PLC are awaiting approval, Kono said, although their introduction could hasten the process.
Around 64,350 vials of Pfizer’s vaccine arrived on a chartered flight from the European Union last week. Kono declined to specify when the second flight carrying additional vials will arrive, but said the central government will ensure that enough vaccines will be secured to move the process forward smoothly.
The vaccination process in the United States has been hampered from the start by significant delays and distrust of public officials. Kono said Japan will surely encounter problems of its own as it looks to stamp out the virus, but the government is preparing to respond flexibly and quickly to such issues.
Regarding young people, who are more likely to be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, Kono said it is crucial that they receive the shot.
“It’s very important that young people receive the vaccine to stop the virus from spreading further,” he said.
With the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games slated for late July, it remains a major concern whether the spread of the virus will be sufficiently reduced by then.
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