Japan starts COVID vaccination program | News | DW | 17.02.2021
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Japan starts COVID vaccination program

Japan has administered the first shots of its vaccination program, starting with healthcare workers. So far, only the BioNTech-Pfizer jab has been authorized.

New coronavirus vaccine is delivered to a medical institution in Tokyo

Vaccinations began with healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses

The rollout of a cautious vaccination program began in Japan on Wednesday, just over five months before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

While the country has started its vaccination program relatively late compared with the US and Europe, Japan has seen a much more limited outbreak.

What is the rollout plan?

Employees at the Tokyo Medical Center were among the first of about 40,000 medical professionals targeted to receive the first vaccine shipments.

They will be followed by 3.7 million more medical workers, to be followed by 36 million people aged 65 and over.

Despite a recent rise in infection numbers, Japan has largely dodged the huge numbers of cases that have dogged other similarly developed economies.

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The arduous path to the Olympics

Japan has only approved the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine so far, with the approval process for Oxford-AstraZeneca's jab having only recently begun.

A contract has been signed with a third vaccine supplier, Moderna, which has yet to apply for approval.

Why is the vaccine launch so late?

The delay is largely because the Japanese government asked for clinical testing specifically in Japan, in addition to multinational tests elsewhere.

There is considerable skepticism in Japan about vaccines and officials said it was necessary to address safety concerns properly.

Pfizer applied for emergency approval in December, but Tokyo waited for the results of Japanese tests submitted in late January.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said last week that Asians made up "only a small percent" of the Pfizer test on about 44,000 people in six countries.

However, that data included samples of some 2,000 Asians. Some critics are have questioned whether the additional tests on some 160 Japanese people added anything.

Taro Kono, administrative reform minister for vaccinations, said thoroughness had taken precedence over speed. "It was more important for the government to show the Japanese people that everything was done" to encourage taking the vaccines, he said.

How has Japan fared?

The archipelago nation of more than 126 million people has recorded almost 418,000 COVID-19 cases, and just over 7,000 deaths.

A spike in infections last year, prompted the government to impose a state of emergency in Tokyo and several other parts of the country until March 7.

The measure is limited, primarily asking restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m. and urging rather than ordering people to stay at home.

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The Japanese response to the pandemic is being closely watched with doubts still lingering about the feasibility of the Olympics, due to open July 23.

Officials have outlined measures they say can be put in place to ensure the games will be safe, without even requiring participants to be vaccinated or quarantined.

rc/rt (AFP, AP)