January 20, 2021
Japan's top government spokesman said Tuesday Jan. 19 that the widespread distribution of coronavirus vaccines is not a prerequisite for going ahead with this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
"We are considering comprehensive measures to hold a safe and secure games, even without making vaccines a condition," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's administration has remained adamant that the Olympics and Paralympics, postponed last year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, will be held from late July through early September, despite public skepticism as infections in the country continue to surge.
Around 80 percent of respondents in a Kyodo News survey conducted this month said the games should be rescheduled again or canceled.
Vaccinations are slated to begin in Japan by late February, starting with medical workers, followed by people aged 65 or older from late March, then people with pre-existing conditions and those caring for the elderly.
Suga, who turned 72 last month, falls in the second category and will be inoculated when his turn comes, said an official from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
Administrative reform minister Taro Kono, who was appointed to lead the vaccination efforts, promised the swift distribution of doses across the country.
"I will do everything in my power to ensure safe and effective vaccines can be given to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The distribution of the vaccines has various logistical challenges, including the need to store some types at subzero temperatures.
Kono said his job would be clearing those hurdles, but the government's coronavirus response would continue under the purview of economic and fiscal policy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and health minister Norihisa Tamura.
Suga has vowed to secure vaccines for Japan's population of 126 million by the first half of 2021, with the government having agreements with Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. to receive enough doses for 145 million people.
The Pfizer vaccine, the only one already under review by the health ministry, is expected to receive fast-track approval based on clinical trials conducted in other countries.
Tamura said for vaccinations to move forward according to the government's timeline, approval would need to come in mid-February.
"We are making plans with that in mind," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.