COVID-19 vaccinations for Japan's large elderly population started on Monday, despite the fact that imported doses are still in short supply and the rate is unlikely to prevent a fourth wave of infection. Pfizer Inc.'s vaccine, manufactured in Europe and distributed to the regions in the past week, started giving shots to people aged 65 and up at 120 locations around the world.
According to a health ministry timetable, only 2,810 citizens in Tokyo will receive a shot from the first batch, with most regions receiving 1,000 doses or less. Japan's population of 126 million people is rapidly ageing. On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato reaffirmed the government's prediction that it would be able to secure adequate vaccines for Japan's 36 million over-65s by the end of June.
Tokyo also started a month-long stretch of quasi-emergency measures on Monday to combat a fourth wave of contagion caused by virulent mutant strains, with the Summer Olympics set to begin in just over 100 days. When COVID-19 vaccinations began in mid-February, Japan was one of the last major economies to do so. Taro Kono, the vaccines minister, defended the pace, claiming that local governments needed time to plan.
As the only COVID-19 vaccine approved by domestic regulators, Japan is reliant on Pfizer's vaccine. The speed of shots is expected to pick up in May as a larger number of imports from the company's European facilities arrive.
About 1.1 million people in Japan have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine's two-shot regimen, the majority of whom are frontline healthcare staff. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is one of 90 government officials who have been vaccinated in preparation for a meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden later this month. According to Haruka Sakamoto, a physician and researcher at Keio University in Tokyo, vaccines for the general public will not be available until late summer or even winter, too late to prevent a revival of cases that appears to be centred on people in their 30s and 40s.