TOKYO – Japan issued its first approval for a coronavirus vaccine on Sunday, saying it would use the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine to start vaccinating health workers this week.
Japan was slower than the United States and Europe to authorize any coronavirus vaccines, but it also had the luxury of time. Public health measures have successfully kept infection rates low, and the country of 126 million people has recorded fewer than 7,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Nevertheless, the beginning of vaccinations is an important development for Japan. As the number of daily new infections peaked in early January at nearly 8,000, the country declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions that was partially extended until March 7 due to the emergence of new, more contagious coronavirus variants.
The number of daily new infections has since dropped dramatically, averaging seven days below 2,000, according to a New York Times database.
Officials plan to first vaccinate a select group of health workers who will then administer the shots to other medical professions.
The vaccine will be rolled out to the elderly and high-risk populations by late spring, according to plans published by the Ministry of Health. But it is unlikely that Japan will have its entire population vaccinated before the Summer Olympics, and they said athletes and other participants do not need to be vaccinated beforehand.