Japan Formally Approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine for Domestic Use

Japan Formally Approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine for Domestic Use

The fast-track approval, made by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, represents a major step forward in Japan’s efforts to bring the pandemic under control. A shipment of approximately 400,000 doses from Pfizer’s factory in Belgium arrived on Friday, Jan 15th. Health workers will be the first in line for inoculation, followed by people with preexisting conditions, those working at elderly care facilities, and, finally, the general public. 

Vaccine Efficacy and Distribution Details

U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE have said data from late-stage clinical trials showed the vaccine to be 95 percent effective at preventing symptoms of COVID-19. 

In addition to Pfizer, Japan has agreements in place with AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. to receive enough doses for its population of 126 million.

20,000 doctors and nurses have also agreed to participate in a study to track potential side effects and the frequency with which they occur. Vaccinations are expected to start Wednesday at a medical facility in Tokyo before expanding elsewhere, with two shots to be administered three weeks apart.

One hurdle to rolling out COVID-19 vaccines and achieving herd immunity in Japan is public skepticism. Only 63.1 percent of respondents in a Kyodo News poll conducted this month expressed willingness to get a shot, while 27.4 percent said they were unwilling, apparently out of concern for side effects.

Not to mention, distributing the vaccine nationwide also comes with a number of logistical challenges. It must be stored in ultracold freezers at around minus 75 C, and once taken out kept refrigerated and used within five days.

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