Japan begins Covid-19 vaccination drive with healthcare workers

Update 1: Adds quotes, context

Tokyo, Feb 17 (efe-epa).- Japan began its vaccination campaign against Covid-19 on Wednesday, in a first phase in which it aims to inoculate 40,000 healthcare workers.

The first doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, the only one approved so far in Japan, were administered at a public hospital in Tokyo and will be expanded to 100 health centers across the country by next week.

“It hasn’t hurt at all, so I’ve remained calm,” said the first health worker to receive the jab, in front of the cameras.

Japan began its Covid-19 vaccination campaign about two months after the United Kingdom and less than six months ahead of the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The Ministry of Health has set itself the goal of vaccinating the country’s population, some 126 million people, in one year.

“I am not taking into account the Olympic Games,” the minister in charge of the vaccination, Taro Kono, said in a briefing on the eve of the vaccination, adding that the government’s priority is to complete the campaign smoothly.

About 20,000 health workers from the initial group are expected to participate in a study on potential side effects and their frequency.

The skepticism of the Japanese towards vaccines developed outside the country is high after a series of serious side effects in previous vaccination campaigns.

Volunteers will keep a daily log for seven weeks after the first of two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is administered.

“We have enough needles to vaccinate the 40,000 workers, but I am determined to get enough needles for the entire vaccination,” Kono said about what could become one of the big challenges for the process.

About 3.7 million frontline health workers will start getting vaccinated in March, followed by some 36 million people aged 65 and older from April, the Ministry of Health estimated.

People with pre-existing risk conditions such as diabetes or heart disease will come next, and workers at elderly care facilities will follow.

“The plan is to finish the vaccination of the elderly in two months and three weeks,” Minister Kono said.

Finally, it will be the turn of the general population, from the age of 16.

“I would like to encourage younger generations to get the vaccine to prevent the disease,” Kono said, adding that so far the majority of those concerned have been the elderly, including Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, 72 , who has conveyed his intention to put it on.

Despite the fact that the Japanese government is actively urging its population to participate in the immunization by vaccination process with an unprecedented deployment on social networks and other media, authorities have ruled out putting in place any mechanism to make the vaccine mandatory.

“No vaccine in this country is mandatory. This Covid-19 vaccine is no exception,” Kono said about it.

Japan last week received a first shipment of 386,100 doses of the vaccine from Europe and expects to receive a second shipment in the near future, although no further details have been released at this time.

The has reached an agreement with three pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer, the American company Moderna and the British AstraZeneca to supply it with enough doses for its entire population and to have reserves, so for the moment it is ruling out purchasing vaccines developed by other firms. EFE-EPA

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