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Japan mulls free jabs with eye on Games

By WANG XU in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-04 09:49
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People in the traditional costume kimonos, wear protective masks as they make their way at a shopping district in the hot weather, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Tokyo, Japan on Aug 18, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Japan is considering offering free coronavirus vaccines to all Japanese whenever supplies become available.

According to Kyodo News, Japanese medical workers and the elderly will receive priority for vaccination. Plans for the central government to bear the full cost, without requesting contributions from local authorities, are under consideration.

The Japanese government approved clinical trials of a domestically developed vaccine in June. At the same time, it also signed deals with United States pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNtech to secure 120 million doses of their vaccine for 60 million people by June next year, if clinical tests are successful.

In addition, Japan's health ministry has agreed to buy 120 million doses of a vaccine made by British drugmaker AstraZeneca, and 30 million doses are penciled in for March.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Shoji Watanabe, head of coronavirus control in the Cabinet Secretariat, said the aim is to "ensure that the vaccine will be provided to the entire nation during the first half of 2021".

Country's revitalization

Though Watanabe did not link the midyear target to the Olympics, it is widely regarded that Japan views the Games as a priority and a chance to showcase the country's revitalization. The postponed opening ceremony is scheduled for July 24, 2021.

Details on how the vaccine program will be conducted will be worked out by the government's panel on the pandemic, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said on Wednesday.

"We will draw a conclusion about the financial support depending on our discussions and the nature of the vaccines," he said.

In Japan, enthusiasm for the Games has waned as the pandemic continues. A poll covering some 13,000 Japanese companies conducted by Tokyo Shoko Research last month showed that most of them were against holding the Games in 2021. Nearly 26 percent of respondents wanted the event to be canceled.

However, Toshiro Muto, CEO of the Tokyo 2020 committee, insisted that the Games can proceed even if no vaccine is available.

"We don't think a vaccine is a prerequisite for holding the Olympics,"Muto said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. "It would be still beneficial if an effective vaccine is developed by next year, and we do hope that will be the case."

Agencies contributed to this story.

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