• Kyodo, Jiji

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday asked Pfizer Inc. to bring forward Japan's contracted supply of coronavirus vaccine, a government official said, amid fears over the global spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Kishida held phone talks with Albert Bourla, chief executive of the U.S. pharmaceutical company, the official said.

Japan is looking to move up the third round of shots by revising the planned eight-month interval between second jabs and boosters. The government has been negotiating to receive 120 million doses from Pfizer ahead of schedule.

The government started arrangements Thursday to allow workers and users of elderly care facilities to receive third shots of vaccines six months after their second shots.

The government plans to use U.S. biotechnology startup Moderna Inc.'s vaccine for those who will receive booster shots after a six-month interval. Moderna's vaccine was approved for use as boosters on Thursday.

The Moderna vaccine became the second vaccine that can be used for third shots in Japan after the Pfizer vaccine. A cross-vaccination with a different vaccine from the one used for the first two doses is allowed for third shots.

The government initially said that the interval could be shortened to six months only if a cluster of infections hits medical institutions or elderly care facilities.

However, calls for quicker administration of booster shots increased following the spread of the omicron variant abroad.

Japan started to administer booster shots earlier this month, initially targeting medical workers. So far, some 117,000 people have received their third vaccinations.

The government has already decided to use some 5 million doses of Moderna vaccine in stock in the booster campaign.

According to the government's announcement in November, it plans to supply 24 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to local governments by February.

Meanwhile, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. submitted Thursday a new drug application to the health ministry for Novavax Inc.'s vaccine. Takeda will handle domestic distribution of the U.S. biotechnology firm's TAK-019, the first protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate for which an application has been made in Japan.

The vaccine demonstrated a robust immune response and was well-tolerated with no serious adverse events after a 0.5 milliliter dose was administered twice on healthy Japanese adults 21 days apart during a domestic clinical trial, according to an interim analysis from Takeda.

The two companies are working to establish the capability to manufacture the vaccine at Takeda's facilities in Japan with an aim to start distribution in early 2022, if approved.

The health ministry has signed a deal to receive 150 million doses of the Novavax vaccine from as early as the beginning of 2022.

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