Covid-19 jabs for elderly delayed, as Japan faces limited vaccine supplies

TOKYO (REUTERS) – Japan will receive only limited doses of Covid-19 vaccines for the first months of the inoculation roll-out and shots for the elderly will be distributed gradually, the country’s inoculation chief said.

Pfizer, the maker of Japan’s only approved Covid-19 vaccine, is ramping up production in Europe, but those increased supplies are not likely to reach Japan until May, Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono cautioned on Sunday (Feb 21) in an interview with national broadcaster NHK.

“We would like to start vaccinations for the elderly in April, but unfortunately, the number of doses allocated to them will be very limited at first, so we want to start slowly,” Mr Kono said.

Japan has negotiated to receive more than 500 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines developed by Western drugmakers. But domestic regulators have approved only one vaccine so far and the nation remains dependent on imported supplies that have been held up by production snags and export controls.

Since Mr Kono, the Minister for Administrative Reform, was tapped last month to lead Japan’s vaccination push, he has resisted giving firm timelines for when doses will arrive and be distributed. Even so, the government has stuck to a pledge to secure enough shots for the whole population of 126 million by June.

Japan has negotiated to receive 144 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine this year and its second shipment of about 450,000 shots arrived on Sunday.

The inoculation campaign kicked off last week with doctors and nurses getting the first shots. The government is prioritising vaccinations for around 4.7 million medical workers, about one million more than initially estimated.

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