• Kyodo

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The first batch of the coronavirus vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical maker Moderna Inc. arrived in Japan on Friday, with the government planning to use it at mass vaccination centers following expected approval in May.

It will become the second type of shot available in the country after the one developed by Pfizer Inc. if a health ministry panel greenlights it as early as May 20.

The Moderna vaccine that arrived at Kansai Airport in Osaka Prefecture from Belgium is expected to be used at large-scale COVID-19 vaccination centers that the central government plans to open in Tokyo and Osaka, according to the government.

Japan has a supply agreement with Moderna for 50 million doses of the vaccine, enough for 25 million people, or about one-fifth of the entire population.

Their delivery is expected to help speed up the inoculation rollout as Japan faces a resurgence in infections. The nation currently lags far behind other advanced countries including the United States in the progress of vaccinations.

Moderna’s Japanese partner Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. has filed for approval of the vaccine with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. A health ministry panel is likely to make a decision as early as May 20 with formal approval to follow the next day.

Japan has started its vaccination rollout using the Pfizer vaccine, but less than 2% of its population of 126 million had received at least one shot as of Tuesday. Most of those inoculated so far are health care workers.

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept in specialized freezers at around minus 75 degrees Celsius, the Moderna shot can be stored at around minus 20 C and is easy to handle.

The government, meanwhile, has decided that a large-scale vaccination center due to open in downtown Tokyo as part of efforts to speed up inoculation of older people will require reservations in advance to avoid crowding, according to government sources.

The center in Tokyo’s Otemachi district is expected to be used by some 900,000 people aged 65 or older residing in the capital and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures. It will launch on May 24 and will be staffed by Self-Defense Forces doctors and nurses, according to the government.

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