Photo: Hakan Nural/UnsplashA mock up of a Covid-19 vaccine for illustration purposes only

Here’s the tentative timeline of Japan’s Covid-19 vaccination programme

When we can expect the coronavirus vaccines to be approved and how they’ll be distributed

Emma Steen

Now that a handful of countries have begun administering the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines, the Japanese government is working to follow suit with sights set on the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Vaccines will be free for all residents, including foreign residents as long as they are registered within a municipality.

Here’s the projected timeline of how Japan will carry out its vaccination programme.

End-January 2021: Local clinical trials began for the Moderna vaccine. Pfizer also submitted the data from its clinical trials in Japan at the end of the month. Part of the reason why Japan is taking longer to roll out the vaccines is that it requires more clinical tests than other countries for the vaccine to be deemed safe. 

Early February: On February 5, AstraZeneca applied for fast-track vaccine approval. Japan officially approved the Pfizer vaccine on February 14.

Mid-February: Rollout for Pfizer began on February 17, with the first batch going out to a maximum of 20,000 frontline medical workers. Approximately 3.7 million more medical workers will be up next, where each of the two shots will be administered three weeks apart. As of February 24, roughly 18,000 people had received the first of two doses. 

March: AstraZenca's vaccine could be approved in Japan as early as March and the company plans on delivering 30 million shots to the country by the end of the month. Tickets for Pfizer vaccines will be sent to 36 million residents aged 65 or older within the second half of March. 

April: According to The Japan Times, inoculation for senior residents with vaccination tickets is expected to begin from April 12. 

May: The Moderna vaccine is expected to be approved around this time. According to Reuters, the head of the Japan vaccine business for local pharmaceutical company Takeda Pharmaceutical Co said that securing approval for the vaccine in May is the ‘best case scenario’. This is because clinical trials are likely to take months. 

End-June: Prime Minister Suga is aiming to secure enough vaccines to treat all residents by the end of June. 

July: Treatment for the general public begins. All residents age 16 and older, including foreign residents, are eligible for the free vaccine. The government does not recommend children to be vaccinated at this time due to potential risks and allergic reactions. 

As of February 2021, the Japanese government has made contracts to secure enough Pfizer vaccines to treat 72 million people by the end of the year and enough Moderna vaccines for 25 million people. Meanwhile, a third contract with AstraZeneca to treat 60 million people means Japan would have enough vaccines to treat a total of 157 million people. 

This article was originally published on January 20 and updated on February 25.

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