The Japanese government has signed agreements with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. to receive the drugmaker’s Covid-19 vaccine doses enough for a total of 72 million people within this year, the Health Ministry said.
The additional supply added to the country’s agreement last year with the drugmaker to acquire doses for 60 million people, which accounted for roughly half the country’s population of 126 million.
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, the government hopes majority of the adults will be vaccinated by July, when the Olympic Games are slated to open.
The country aims to begin inoculating the general public against Covid-19 from May after vaccinating medical workers and the most vulnerable, according to local media reports.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday that Japan aims to start the vaccinations “as soon as possible,” as the country is struggling to curb the spread of the virus amid a resurgence and the mounting pressure on the medical system.
The vaccination process is slated to start with medical workers, then people aged 65 or older from late March, followed by people with pre-existing health conditions and those caring for the elderly.
Around 10,000 medical workers are in line to get the free inoculations first, followed by 50 million most at-risk people, according to government officials.
Suga, who turned 72 last month, falls in the second category and will be inoculated when his turn comes, according to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government is considering limiting the vaccination within residents aged 16 and older, taking into consideration the ages of people who participated in the clinical trials overseas.
Taro Kono, administrative reform minister who was appointed to lead the vaccination efforts this week, has pledged to ensure the swift distribution of doses nationwide.
Top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato has said it was yet too early to announce a vaccination schedule.
“Vaccination will begin only after the vaccine is approved,” he said.
But experts have warned that vaccine hesitancy in Japan may dampen its rollout.
Around 60 per cent of Japanese respondents in an international survey published in December 2020 said they were willing to get vaccinated, local media reported.