Japan has officially approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, whose first batches arrived at Narita Airport on Friday.
Japan’s original plan was to start inoculating health care workers at the end of February, with officials now stating that the first day will be February 17. The plan is that the healthcare workers who receive the vaccine first will then administer the vaccine to more healthcare workers, older people, and those considered to be at high risk.
The vaccine rollout in Japan will start slowly despite the country’s intentions to host the Olympic Games this summer. One of the reasons that Japan has not been in such a haste to approve and receive the vaccine is that the number of cases remains relatively low compared to other countries despite increases in the months of December and January that led to a prolonged state of emergency.
The state of emergency, however, has received fierce criticism for not doing as much as it should. Unlike other countries, Japan’s state of emergency is based on recommendations that citizens and businesses can choose not to follow. Many restaurants and businesses decided to follow the government’s guidelines and have altered their business hours or closed until the state of emergency is lifted.
Despite the unenforced state of emergency, COVID-19 cases have been decreasing both in Tokyo and the rest of the country, but there are still fears that the medical system is being pushed to its limits. The decrease in cases and the arrival of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will decrease the pressure to the overwhelmed healthcare system.
Japan has also signed agreements with AstraZeneca and Moderna. The government had also questioned whether people would want to choose a vaccine over the other, but Minister of Administrative Reform Taro Kono said that since the first vaccine offered would be Pfizer’s, they could decide whether to get it or not.
For the most part, Japan has found itself in a very lucky situation considering the lax measures to battle the spread of the virus and the Go To Travel campaign resulted in the explosion of cases that started at the end of autumn.
As the government starts administrating the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the bigger question is whether the choice to go ahead with the plans to host the Olympic games in summer 2021 will backfire and make cases in Japan spike once again.