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The health ministry said Monday that it will hold a panel meeting on Thursday to decide whether to approve two COVID-19 vaccines developed by U.S. biotechnology startup Moderna Inc. and British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC.

With a green light from the panel, the ministry plans to approve the vaccines as special cases after simplified screenings.

The Moderna vaccine is expected to be used at mass vaccination sites to be run by the Defense Ministry in Tokyo and Osaka Prefecture starting May 24.

Currently, U.S. drug giant Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine is the only shot approved in Japan. A total of around 4.4 million medical workers and people age 65 or over have so far been given at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Having two more vaccines approved is expected to help accelerate the country’s vaccination campaign.

The health ministry has contracts to procure vaccine doses for 25 million people from Moderna and for 60 million from AstraZeneca, which applied for ministry approval of their vaccines in February and March.

The two vaccines are basically for people of 18 or over, and each recipient needs to receive two doses.

Overseas, there have been reports of blood clots in some recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine, prompting age limits and suspensions for use of the vaccine. Discussions on such restrictions are also expected in Japan.

The health ministry said Monday that it will hold a panel meeting on Thursday to decide whether to approve two COVID-19 vaccines, including one developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC. | BLOOMBERG
The health ministry said Monday that it will hold a panel meeting on Thursday to decide whether to approve two COVID-19 vaccines, including one developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC. | BLOOMBERG

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