Japan panel recommends approval of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine after morning arrival

TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese health panel on Friday night recommended approval of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine – the first in the country – as Japan tries to tame a third wave of infections in the run-up to the Summer Olympics.

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen during a mass vaccination rollout in Ronda, Spain February 11, 2021. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

The government will aim to give final approval as early as Sunday, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said vaccinations will begin from the middle of next week, starting with some 10,000 health workers. The government hopes to secure enough supplies for the whole populace by mid-year.

About 400,000 doses arrived at Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, on Friday aboard a flight from Brussels, Kyodo reported.

There had been concern that the European Union could block exports of the shots, prompting Japan’s vaccine chief to warn against growing nationalism over supplies.

The European Commission, the EU executive, said on Thursday it had so far approved all requests for the export of COVID-19 vaccines, including to Japan, after setting up a mechanism to monitor vaccine flows on Jan. 30.

A Japanese health ministry official declined to comment on reports of the vaccine’s arrival, citing security reasons.

Japan has arranged to buy 144 million doses of the vaccine made by the U.S. drugmaker and German partner BioNTech, enough to inoculate 72 million people. It also has deals for vaccines developed by AstraZeneca Plc, Moderna Inc and Novavax Inc.

So far, only Pfizer and AstraZeneca have submitted applications for approval.

Most of Japan is still under a state of emergency after its third and most deadly wave of the virus hit late last year. Cases and fatalities have trended lower in the past couple of weeks and Tokyo logged just over 300 cases on Friday.

Japan has so far recorded about 410,000 coronavirus cases and 6,772 deaths. The Olympic Games are due to start July 23.

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