The Japanese government on Wednesday (February 17) launched its vaccination campaign, starting with an initial group of 40,000 health workers before expanding the rollout to the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions.
The launch of the nationwide vaccination program comes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s public support dwindles amid criticism of sluggish pandemic response.
Japan Begins Administering COVID-19 Vaccine to Frontline Workers
The first shots were administered at a state-run hospital in Tokyo, with vaccinations due to take place at 100 medical facilities across Japan by next week, Kyodo News reported.
Recently, the government received criticism due to its “slow response” in relation to the raging pandemic. The country has been somewhat slow to launch vaccinations against the novel coronavirus, starting its program later than at least 70 other countries.
Of the initial group of health workers, 20,000 will participate in a study to track side effects potentially caused by the vaccine developed by U.S. drug maker Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech SE, and the frequency with which they occur.
In line with this, they will all be asked to keep daily records for seven weeks after taking the first of two shots. The shots will be administered three weeks apart.
Medical facilities tapped to provide inoculations in the country have been outfitted with ultra-cold freezers capable of storing the vaccine at around minus 75 C. Once taken out, doses must be kept refrigerated and used within five days.
Some 3.7 million front-line healthcare workers will be inoculated in March, followed by 36 million people aged 65 or older from April.
Also, people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or heart disease and those working at elderly care facilities will come next, and then finally the general population.