Japan aims to start vaccinating the general public against the coronavirus in May – just two months before the postponed Olympics – after targeted jabs for the most vulnerable, reports said Wednesday.
The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said the government is hoping the majority of adults will be vaccinated by July, when the Games are due to open.
The country has agreed with pharmaceutical firms to receive enough doses for all 126 million residents and is working to approve the Pfizer jab as the first to be used in Japan from next month.
Around 10,000 medical workers will be first in line for free inoculation, top government officials have said, followed by 50 million at-risk people including those with underlying conditions and the over-65s.
Ministers hope to start mass vaccination in May at the earliest, the Yomiuri and Sankei Shimbun newspapers reported, citing unnamed government sources.
Tokyo 2020’s opening ceremony is in six months, but a surge in Covid-19 infections in Japan and worldwide has cast fresh doubt over the event.
Public support for the Olympics has plummeted, with more than 80% of people recently polled in Japan saying they should be cancelled or postponed again.
Asked about Wednesday’s reports, top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said it was too early to announce a vaccination schedule.
“Vaccination will begin only after the vaccine is approved,” he said.
However, experts have warned that vaccine hesitancy in Japan may cloud its rollout.
Just 60% of Japanese respondents in an international survey published in December said they want the vaccine, compared with 80% in China, 75% in South Korea and 69% in the US.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said he will be among the first to be vaccinated, in an apparent attempt to bolster lukewarm confidence about the jab.