Japan’s vaccine minister announced Tuesday the country plans to start its coronavirus vaccine program Wednesday, focused initially on inoculating 40,000 health care workers.
At a Tokyo news briefing, Cabinet Vaccine Minister Taro Kono said those first to receive the shot will be monitored for the first three weeks for any reactions.
Japanese authorities formally approved its first vaccine, the Pfizer-BioNTech drug, Sunday, after officials carried out further tests. Kono said the additional testing on Japanese people was necessary to reassure them of its safety. The coronavirus vaccines arrived at a Tokyo hospital late Tuesday.
Japan is the last member of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations to begin the shots.
The government plans to inoculate medical workers first, as well as people with health conditions, and workers at elderly care facilities. Kono told reporters the government will not begin vaccinating the elderly until April 1. The government expects the program to run from Wednesday through February of next year.
Vaccinations are not compulsory in Japan, and while the minister voiced confidence he could reach front-line workers and elderly people, he acknowledged he needed to formulate a plan for successfully reaching younger people and encourage them to get the shot.
Along with Pfizer-BioNTech, Japan has also, so far, signed contracts to procure millions of doses of the vaccine from AstraZeneca and Moderna, enough in all for 157 million people. The coronavirus causes the COVID-19 disease.