• Kyodo, Jiji

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Inoculations of older people against the coronavirus will start in April as planned but at a slower pace, the minister in charge of the vaccine rollout said Sunday as the country received its second shipment of Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine.

Citing what he said was a delay until May of a production capacity increase by Pfizer, Taro Kono said supply of the vaccine “will be very limited until April,” adding that the government “will start (vaccinations of older people) little by little and expand it slowly.”

Japan last Wednesday began inoculating an initial group of health workers in the first phase of its vaccination rollout.

For people aged 65 or older, a group of about 36 million, vaccinations will start in April under the schedule set by the health ministry. But Kono, speaking on a TV program, said that the vaccine will only be available in limited areas and among limited age groups during that month.

His comments came as a shipment of up to around 450,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture after the European Union gave it the green light under its new vaccine export controls.

The vaccine is the first Japan has approved for use against COVID-19.

Japan, which received its first shipment of up to 386,100 doses from Pfizer’s Belgian factory on Feb. 12, launched its vaccination program on Wednesday for 40,000 health care workers, starting first in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

A plane carrying the second shipment of Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture on Sunday. | KYODO
A plane carrying the second shipment of Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture on Sunday. | KYODO

The health ministry said 5,039 people had been inoculated at 68 medical facilities as of Friday.

The government said Saturday it had received reports of hives and chills as possible side effects of the vaccine developed by Pfizer of the United States and Germany’s BioNTech SE.

But there have been no reports of severe allergic reactions, also known as anaphylaxis, or deaths after shots were administered.

Of the 40,000 health care workers, 20,000 are taking part in a study to track potential side effects caused by the vaccine, keeping daily records for seven weeks after receiving the first of two shots. The shots will be administered three weeks apart.

The next group in line to be vaccinated from March is an estimated 4.7 million other front-line health care workers across the country.

After inoculations begin of people aged 65 or older, people with pre-existing conditions and those working at senior care facilities will be targeted, and then finally the general population.

According to a recent survey by Jiji Press, about 70% of people in Japan hope to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The second shipment of Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture on Sunday. | KYODO
The second shipment of Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture on Sunday. | KYODO

The poll, conducted earlier this month, showed that 70.1% of respondents said they want to get vaccinated, while 17.5% said they do not and 12.4% said they do not know. It showed that 73.4% of men and 66.3% of women want to get vaccinated.

By age, 80.0% of respondents in their 60s and 76.4% of those in their 70s or over want to get vaccinated. The proportion was lowest among those between 18 and 29, at 60.8%.

The survey also showed that 75.5% of respondents said they have safety concerns over COVID-19 vaccines, far higher than the 23.2% who said they have no worries.

The proportion of people with safety concerns came to 81.5% for women and 70.4% for men. By age, the share came to 80.8% for those between 18 and 29 and 80.4% for those in their 40s.

The interview-based survey was conducted with 2,000 people aged 18 or over across the country. Valid responses came from 61.9%.

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