(Reuters) – Japan launched its COVID-19 inoculation drive on Wednesday, administering the Pfizer Inc vaccine to Tokyo hospital workers, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attempts to defy the odds and host the Olympics this summer.
Local TV screened footage of hospital workers, who are among 40,000 medical professionals targeted to receive the first doses of the vaccine, being injected.
Inoculating Japan’s 126-million strong population swiftly is a top priority for Suga’s government with the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics scheduled to start in late July.
Still, the complete roll-out of the programme – moving first through some 3.7 million medical personnel and 36 million people aged 65 or above – is expected to take a year.
There are also fears that millions of the Pfizer vaccine doses could be wasted due to a shortage of syringes required to maximise the number of shots from each vial.
Japan has signed contracts to procure a combined total of 314 million doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc – enough for 157 million people.
Japan has so far recorded about 415,000 COVID-19 cases, including 7,013 deaths.
Although daily cases have been in decline in recent weeks after peaking in early January, Tokyo and nine other prefectures remain under a state of emergency to prevent further spread of the disease.