Japan Seeks Mid-February Pfizer Vaccine Approval, Minister Says

(Bloomberg) -- Japan’s health minister said he’s hoping Pfizer Inc.’s coronavirus vaccine will be approved by mid-February under an accelerated process.

The comments from Norihisa Tamura came after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated this week that the government was preparing to start the inoculation program in late February, and added that local governments were readying vaccination centers.

“We need to do it as fast as possible,” Tamura said Friday in an interview with Bloomberg at his offices in Tokyo. “If all goes well, I would like to see the approval in about mid-February.”

Japan is set to begin the vaccination process about two months later than the U.S., following extra trials conducted on Japanese people. The vaccines will be provided free of charge, and medical personnel will get top priority, followed by the elderly. Suga, 72, has said he will be among the first to receive the vaccine.

The government has sealed a contract for 120 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, enough for 60 million of the country’s 126 million population, by the end of June. Pfizer is the only company so far to have applied for emergency approval for its vaccine, but Japan also has contracts with Moderna Inc, AstraZeneca Plc and Novavax Inc.

A Bitter Vaccine History Means Hurdles for Japan’s Covid Fight

A poll carried out by the Yomiuri newspaper in December found that 84% of respondents wanted to be vaccinated, but only 15% wanted to receive their dose immediately. The remaining 69% said they were in no rush.

Japan has so far recorded just over 4,000 deaths from the coronavirus, compared with about 86,000 in the U.K., whose population is approximately half the size.