TOKYO, April 12 (Reuters) - Japan began COVID-19
vaccinations for its sizable elderly population on Monday, with
imported doses still in short supply and the pace unlikely to
stop a fourth wave of infection.
Shots for people aged 65 and above began at some 120 sites
across the country, using Pfizer Inc's vaccine made in
Europe and delivered to the regions in the past week.
Just 2,810 people in Tokyo are expected to get a shot from
the first batch, while most regions will receive 1,000 doses or
fewer, according to a health ministry schedule. Japan has a
rapidly ageing population totalling 126 million.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato reiterated on Monday
the government's projection that it can secure enough vaccines
for Japan's 36 million people over the age of 65 by the end of
"If imports from the EU go smoothly, I understand the
country is expected to distribute vaccines that can be
administered to all of the elderly," Kato said.
Tokyo also began on Monday a month-long period of
quasi-emergency measures to blunt a fourth wave of contagion
driven by virulent mutant strains and with the planned start of
the Summer Olympics just over 100 days away.
Japan was among the last major economies to begin COVID-19
inoculations when it started in mid-February. Taro Kono, the
minister in charge of vaccines, has defended the pace, saying
local governments wanted time to prepare.
"After tomorrow, we will inform the prefectures how much we
can distribute, and they will decide how much to allocate to
each municipality," Kono said on national broadcaster NHK on
Japan is dependent on Pfizer's vaccine as the only COVID-19
shot approved by domestic regulators. The pace of shots is
likely to accelerate in May as a greater number of imports from
the company's facilities in Europe is due to arrive.
About 1.1 million people in Japan, mostly frontline
healthcare workers, have gotten at least one dose of the Pfizer
vaccine's two-shot regimen so far. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga
is among some 90 bureaucrats who were vaccinated ahead of a
meeting with United States President Joe Biden this month.
Shots for the general populace are not likely to be
available until the late summer or even winter, too late to stem
a resurgence of cases that appears to be focused on people in
their 30s and 40s, according to Haruka Sakamoto, a physician and
researcher at Keio University in Tokyo.
"The currently available vaccination cannot prevent the
fourth wave of the pandemic," she said. "I think the younger
generation is now going to be more greatly affected compared to
the previous waves."
(Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Additional reporting by
Ju-min Park; Editing by Karishma Singh)