The meeting concluded that both vaccines are effective and Japan is planning to formally approve the shots as soon as Friday, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters on Thursday.
The country’s lagging rollout is being scrutinized just months before it’s scheduled to host the delayed Tokyo Olympics. The go-ahead for two more shots is expected to add more capacity for residents trying to book appointments. But it’ll also likely fuel growing public frustration and questions, including among business leaders, about why the campaign has been so slow despite Japan already having access to millions of doses.
Shipments of Moderna vaccines arrived in the country weeks ago and have been in storage while waiting for the regulatory nod.
Japan began its immunization effort with healthcare workers after the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE was approved for use in February, and began inoculating people over age 65 in April. Progress has since been hindered by a conservative medical culture, with local safety trials required before vaccines could be approved and only doctors and nurses allowed to administer shots. A law giving responsibility for inoculations to local municipalities and the “testing” of a new online reservation system have added to delays.
Just 2.8% of the island nation’s population has been inoculated, the lowest among the 37 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. That compares with about 43% each in the U.S. and in the U.K.
Though the pace of inoculation has picked up to nearly 500,000 doses administered daily, it’s still behind the one million goal set by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Japan has deals for enough doses of the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna to inoculate the roughly 110 million people over the age of 16.
— With assistance by Yuji Okada
(Updates with health minister’s comments in second paragraph.)