The nation’s health minister said Sunday that his ministry could approve a second COVID-19 vaccine as early as May, as the government sees inoculations as crucial to curbing infections.
“There is the possibility of giving pharmaceutical approval as early as May or June,” Norihisa Tamura, minister of health, labor and welfare, said during a TV program.
Tamura also said the government would be ready to consider an application by Johnson & Johnson for its single-dose vaccine if one is filed. But it has yet to decide on whether to purchase the vaccine as discussions continue, he said.
U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine was the first to be approved for use in Japan in February. Britain’s AstraZeneca PLC filed an application for its coronavirus vaccine in early February and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. also applied for approval of U.S. biotechnology company Moderna Inc.’s vaccine last Friday.
Takeda, which is handling domestic approval and imports of about 50 million Moderna doses, announced the filing. It had earlier said approval could be given in May.
Japan kicked off its inoculations in the middle of February using Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine. But Pfizer doses, imported from European factories, are in short supply.
Japan has signed agreements with the three vaccine makers for a total of 314 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, enough to inoculate 157 million people. The country’s population is around 126 million.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has repeatedly said vaccinations are a crucial step to bringing the pandemic under control as early as possible.
Tamura also said the government plans to boost medical capacity once the state of emergency for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures is lifted. The emergency declaration covering the capital and Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures was extended Friday for two weeks.
“We don’t want to see another resurgence of the virus, but we need to think of the worst-case scenario,” said Tamura, adding that the government aims to shore up the health care system so it will be able to handle a resurgence that is even twice the scale of the current wave.
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