TOKYO: Japan’s health ministry on Sunday approved major US drugmaker Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine against the novel coronavirus, under a special simplified screening process used in times of emergency.
It is the first novel coronavirus vaccine approved in Japan. A relevant panel of the ministry on Friday gave its go-ahead to the plan to approve the vaccine under the special procedures.
The first batch of the Pfizer vaccine, believed to contain some 400,000 doses, arrived in Japan on Friday. Using the Pfizer product, vaccinations against the virus responsible for the COVID-19 disease in Japan are slated to start on Wednesday for the first group of medical workers.
The Pfizer vaccine is made by synthesizing part of the messenger RNA, which contains genetic information. Immunity will be acquired after proteins unique to the virus are created in the body after vaccinations.
In clinical trials by the company, the vaccine’s efficacy rate came to 95 pct. A clinical trial conducted in Japan also confirmed its efficacy.
In Japan, vaccinations against the novel coronavirus will be conducted under the framework of “extraordinary vaccination” in the vaccination law, in which vaccine doses are given in an emergency situation to prevent a wide spread of infectious diseases.
People of 16 or older will be able to receive vaccinations free of charge in the municipalities where they are registered as residents, with each given two shots at intervals of three weeks.
Vaccinations against the novel coronavirus are not compulsory, but citizens are urged to receive vaccinations.
The Pfizer vaccine is believed to rarely cause severe adverse events. But people who have suffered severe allergic reaction from vaccinations in the past will be advised not to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Pregnant women will be allowed to be vaccinated only if benefits are judged to outweigh possible dangers.
Elderly people who are physically weak will be able to receive vaccinations if doctors give approval after careful consultation.
From Wednesday, some 10,000 to 20,000 medical workers at national hospitals and other institutions around the country will receive vaccinations, to be followed by some 3.7 million other medical workers from mid-March.
The government plans to start vaccinations for some 36 million people aged 65 or over on April 1, seeking to finish the program for the elderly within about three months.