COVID-19 vaccinations in Japan to begin from Feb 17

Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide says COVID-19 vaccinations will begin on February 17, starting with medical workers, according to public broadcaster NHK.
February 17, 2021 | 08:26
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COVID 19 vaccinations in Japan to begin from Feb 17
A participant pretends to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot during a mock inoculation exercise in Kawasaki on Jan. 27. Source: REUTERS

Spoke at a Lower House budget committee meeting on February 15, Suga said the government will do its utmost to deliver safe and effective vaccines to people as quickly as possible.

Japan, with a population of 126 million, signed a contract last month with Pfizer Inc. to buy 144 million doses of its vaccine, or enough for 72 million people, with the vaccination campaign set to start on Wednesday.

Around 3.7 million health workers are to begin receiving the vaccine in March, followed by 36 million people age 65 and older from April 1 at the earliest.

After a total of 3 million doses are administered to the general public, Japan will survey the potential side effects caused by various COVID-19 vaccines, the health ministry said Monday.

Around 10,000 to 20,000 health care workers are set to begin receiving their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday. The government will collect and periodically release details about all side effects experienced, regardless of whether the vaccine is the cause.

It will also provide information on the safety of the vaccines garnered from the survey after inoculations begin for the general public.

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Murai Hideki said various vaccination sites should be made available, so that shots can be administered to people as fast as possible.

He pointed out that senior citizens should not be required to go to designated vaccination sites. He said they should be able to receive their shots at medical facilities, too.

Regulatory Reform Minister Kono Taro, who is responsible for Japan's vaccination program, said many local governments are planning to use a combination of mass vaccination sites and medical facilities for the inoculations.

Kono said Pfizer was initially against the idea of breaking up the deliveries, as the vaccines need to be kept at minus 75 degrees Celsius during transportation and storage. But he added that Pfizer has given its approval, so he wants local governments to proceed with their plans.

One vial is meant to provide six shots, Pfizer says, but drawing that volume of vaccine from the vial requires special syringes that minimize waste. Using the standard syringes the government has set aside in preparation for the inoculation drive, only five shots can be dispensed from each vial.

“We are still trying to secure these special syringes,” Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tuesday.

In an bid to minimize the amount of vaccine left unused in syringes and vials, the government is asking medical equipment manufacturers to boost output of the special “low dead-space” syringes, but there are doubts whether that can be done quickly enough.

COVID 19 vaccinations in Japan to begin from Feb 17
Japan is scrambling to secure special syringes that can draw six shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shots from each vial. Source: REUTERS

Nipro Corp., which runs a plant in Thailand capable of making 500,000 units a month, said it planned to boost its monthly capacity to a few million, but that it would take up to five months to reach that goal.

“We received a request from the health ministry and we need to take some steps, but it’s not something we can do overnight. It’ll be another four to five months before we can ramp up sharply,” a Nipro spokeswoman said.

Terumo Corp., another major Japanese manufacturer of medical equipment, said it had started developing syringes that could extract six doses from the vials, but that it was too early to say when it would be able to start commercial output.

Although daily new infections with the novel coronavirus in Japan have been in decline in recent weeks after peaking in early January, Tokyo and nine other prefectures remain under a state of emergency.

The nation has seen around 418,000 cases in total, with 7,042 deaths, reported NHK./.

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