Japan begins Covid-19 vaccination in ‘first major step’ to halt pandemic

Hospital staffs check the condition of Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccines at a Tokyo hospital, on Feb 16, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan launched its Covid-19 inoculation drive on Wednesday (Feb 17), administering the Pfizer vaccine to Tokyo hospital workers, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attempts to defy the odds and host the Olympics this summer.

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

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

"This is the first major step towards ending the coronavirus (pandemic)," Vice Health Minister Hiroshi Yamamoto told reporters at the hospital after the first vaccines were administered.

Mr Suga has said that vaccine deployment will be critical to holding a successful Olympics, delayed from last year and due to start in late July.

The government is aiming to secure enough vaccines for its entire population of 126 million by mid-2021.

A complete roll-out could take a year, vaccination programme chief Taro Kono said on Tuesday.

There are also fears that millions of the Pfizer vaccine doses could be wasted due to a shortage of syringes required to maximise the number of shots from each vial.

Japan has signed contracts to procure a combined total of 314 million doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna - enough for 157 million people.

Japan has so far recorded about 415,000 Covid-19 cases, including 7,013 deaths.

Although daily cases have been in decline in recent weeks after peaking in early January, Tokyo and nine other prefectures remain under a state of emergency to prevent further spread of the disease.

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