Japanese panel signs off on Pfizer coronavirus vaccine approval

Japanese panel signs off on Pfizer coronavirus vaccine approval
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Japan is expected to soon begin administering its first coronavirus vaccines to citizens following a Japanese health panel’s decision Friday to recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation for emergency approval. 

Reuters reported that Japanese Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said final approval could come as early as Sunday, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announcing that around 10,000 health workers will get the first vaccinations some time next week. 

According to Japan’s Kyodo News, approximately 400,000 doses from Brussels arrived at Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, on Friday. 

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While there had been talk of the European Union potentially blocking exports of the shots amid disputes on Pfizer meeting the amount promised to the bloc, the European Commission on Thursday said it has approved all export requests submitted thus far, including to Japan.

Japan so far has purchased 144 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and also has deals for the inoculations from AstraZeneca, Moderna and Novavax, according to Reuters. 

The developments on vaccinations in Japan come as more people are raising doubts on whether the country will be able to move forward with plans to host the Olympic Games this summer amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed from last year due to the surge in COVID-19 infections, have continued to maintain that the Games will continue, with Yoshiro Mori, the organizing committee's former president, saying earlier this month that the events would continue “no matter what situation would be with the coronavirus.” 

Mori resigned from his role on the organizing committee on Friday amid criticism for sexist comments he made about women talking too much at board meetings. The 83-year-old former Japanese prime minister is expected to be replaced by former Japan Football Association President Saburo Kawabuchi. 

As of Friday, Japan has had more than 413,000 coronavirus infections, with approximately 6,863 deaths as a result of the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

Most of the country remains under a state of emergency amid its third and deadliest wave of the virus, though cases and fatalities have trended lower in the past couple of weeks, Reuters reported.