TOKYO (JAPAN) – Japan commenced its COVID-19 inoculation drive on Wednesday. In it’s first major step towards containing the pandemic, authorities started administering the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine to Tokyo hospital workers.
Some 40,000 medical professionals are targeted to receive the initial shot 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 pandemic,” Vice Health Minister Hiroshi Yamamoto told reporters at the hospital after the first vaccines were administered.
Vaccination programme chief Taro Kono said on Tuesday that a complete roll-out of vaccination could take a year. Authorities are aiming to secure enough vaccines for its entire population of 126 million by mid-2021.
There are also fears that millions of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine doses could be wasted due to a shortage of syringes required to maximise the number of shots from each vial.
Tokyo Medical Center said it has enough supply for now of the low dead-space syringes needed to extract six doses from each vial. It plans to inoculate 60 people a day starting on Thursday in a bid to minimise the amount of vaccine that could go to waste and monitor people who receive a dose.
Hospital director Kazuhiro Araki said he wanted to set an example for others by receiving the first injection.
“I don’t like getting shots very much,” Araki told reporters. “I’m glad it didn’t hurt. I feel relieved.”
Japan has signed contracts to procure a combined total of 314 million vaccine doses from Pfizer Inc and BionTech, AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc – enough for 157 million people.
Japan has so far recorded about 415,000 COVID-19 cases, including 7,013 deaths.
Suga has said that vaccine deployment will be critical to holding a successful Olympics.