• Kyodo, Jiji

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Japan is likely to receive an increased supply of coronavirus vaccines in April when the government starts administering shots to older people, Taro Kono, minister in charge of vaccinations, said Sunday.

“I believe we can add a bit to a planned shipment for April,” Kono said on a Fuji TV program, saying the government is in negotiations on the matter with U.S.-based Pfizer Inc.

Kono also said he expects the government to have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses so older people can receive their second shots in May and June.

The government plans to start administering shots to people 65 or older, a group of about 36 million people, on April 12.

Vaccinations will start on a small scale to work out any distribution and technical issues before ramping up nationwide from April 26.

“In the last week of April, we will deliver at least one box to all prefectures,” Kono said, in reference to boxes that contain a maximum of 1,170 doses.

“Going ahead, we will ship in accordance with the volume of vaccinations,” he said.

Japan started inoculating an initial group of 40,000 health workers on Feb. 17 in the first phase of its vaccination program.

Inoculation of a further 4.7 million front-line health care workers — including doctors, nurses, paramedics and Self-Defense Forces personnel — will begin in March, followed by older people.

People with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and those working at care facilities for older people will come next, and then finally the general population.

Kono also expressed an intention to produce guidelines for local governments and medical institutions in order to avoid on-site confusion over the inoculation program.

The guidelines are expected to cover a proposed waiting list system in the event that a patient cancels their reservation to receive a shot and protocols in the event of a blackout caused by a natural disaster.

A medical worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as Japan launches its inoculation campaign at Tokyo Medical Center on Feb. 17. | POOL / VIA REUTERS
A medical worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as Japan launches its inoculation campaign at Tokyo Medical Center on Feb. 17. | POOL / VIA REUTERS

On the television program, Kono said that “we will show our hope of facilitating vaccinations so as not to waste the vaccine,” which needs to be administered within five days of defrosting after being kept frozen at very low temperatures.

“If something unexpected occurs, workers on the front-line should use their judgement,” Kono said. “I will accept all criticism that may result.”

On Saturday, prefectural governors urged the government to present a comprehensive coronavirus vaccination rollout plan as soon as it can.

In a set of proposals soon to be submitted to the government, the National Governors’ Association requested targets be set for the public vaccine rollout and that details be provided about a system being created to track the progress of inoculations.

According to the proposal, the governors asked the government to swiftly deliver on its plan, including making available a timeline of when people in Japan can expect to get their shots.

“The volume of vaccine supply and estimates of future supply the government has shown represent only a small part of required levels,” Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori said. “I would like the government to present a long-term plan soon.”

They also requested that the central government shoulder the majority of the cost associated with the nationwide vaccination drive.

At a teleconference of prefectural governors, Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki reported the results of a survey on the country’s 47 prefectures regarding vaccinations.

The survey showed that 21 of the 44 prefectures that gave responses said that they are likely to face shortfalls of funds to carry out inoculations.

“We want (the central government) to secure financial resources so local governments will not have to pay,” Niigata Gov. Hideyo Hanazumi said.

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