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.

Though rollout for the general public hasn't started yet, Covid-19 vaccination documents have been translated into 17 languages (including English) to simplify the process for foreign residents. A new feature on Yahoo Maps (in Japanese only) enables you to find the closest medical facilities distributing vaccines in your area.

Meanwhile, the government is considering issuing inoculation certificates to those who have been vaccinated. While officials around the world have not yet reached a consensus on the matter, the certificates could help to ensure safer travel abroad once borders have reopened.

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. 

March: In March, Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo Co. began the production for the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing that the vaccine will be distributed immediately after it is approved by the government. In late March, the authorities have started distributing Pfizer vaccine vouchers to residents age 65 and older.

April: According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, approximately 1.59 million vaccines have been administered as of April 9. On April 12, Japan began administering vaccines to senior citizens age 65 and older. There are roughly 36 million people making up Japan's elderly population.

May: Japan is set to receive 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine between May and June. Vaccine minister Taro Kono has a target of getting roughly 10 million vaccine doses for each week of May. In addition, the Moderna vaccine is expected to be approved around this time. According to Reuters, the head of 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. 

June: Prime Minister Suga is aiming to secure enough vaccines to treat all senior residents by the end of June. NHK reports that athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics may also receive vaccines by late June, though the government has said that inoculations will not be a requirement to participate.

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. 

More information on the different types of Covid-19 vaccines is available on the World Health Organization website. 

This article was originally published on January 20 and updated on April 12.

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