Tokyo, Feb 15 (IANS) The Japanese government has approved its first vaccine against the Covid-19, kick-starting a massive rollout programme for the country of 126 million people.
Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 mRNA vaccine got the final approval for emergency use on Sunday from health minister Norihisa Tamura, two days after a government committee gave the shot its seal of approval, paving the way for inoculations to start as early as Wednesday, The Japan Times reported.
The vaccine approvals usually take a year or two, but the government shortened the review period to less than two months, scrapping the requirement for large, third phase clinical trials in Japan amid the mounting toll of the pandemic.
Japan, however, was still the last country among the Group of Seven nations to give it the OK as it required an additional clinical trial to be conducted on Japanese people to ensure safety.
The UK and the US approved the Pfizer shot, jointly developed by the US pharmaceutical giant and Germany’s BioNTech SE, in December.
Late-stage trials of Pfizer’s vaccine conducted on more than 43,000 participants, of which 5 per cent were Asian, in the US and five other countries have shown that it was 95 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19.
Japan’s approval came despite a lack of a large clinical trial in the country, as the number of Covid-19 cases in the country remains significantly lower compared to other countries.
Tamura said Pfizer’s clinical trial in Japan on 160 people age 20 to 85 has confirmed the vaccine’s effectiveness in producing antibodies in line with the results from the large-scale trial conducted overseas.
The first shipments of Pfizer’s vaccines arrived at Narita International Airport from Brussels on Friday, carrying vials for around 400,000 shots, according to Kyodo News. Japan has signed a contract to receive 144 million of Pfizer’s vaccines, enough to inoculate 72 million people, by the end of 2021.