Japan’s vaccine campaign chief denies reports of early May rollout
Published: Jan 20, 2021 05:23 PM

A large screen in Tokyo, Japan on Wednesday reminds of “social distancing.” Photo: VCG

The chief of Japan's COVID-19 vaccination program denied media reports that vaccinations for the general population may start in May, as the country battles a third wave that has brought record numbers of infections and serious cases.

Local media, including public broadcaster NHK, cited an anonymous source close to the government as saying vaccinations could reach the general public as soon as May.

"Oh no, NHK, please don't go around making vaccination rollout schedules like that. It's bogus," administrative reform minister Taro Kono, who was selected to spearhead the vaccine rollout this week, tweeted on Wednesday.

The daily Yomiuri said the government was aiming to inoculate most of the population by July, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to start July 23.

The government has so far said it would prioritize medical workers, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions in its vaccine program expected to start by the end of February, but has not provided a timeline beyond that.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a daily news briefing on Wednesday that the "timeline for vaccination for the broader population would be decided after the vaccine is approved."

The timeline for the rollout has garnered interest in Japan, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga saying that the vaccines are key to a safe Olympics.

Japan has arranged to buy 540 million doses from multiple Western developers including Pfizer Inc, whose vaccine is expected to be the first to receive regulatory approval.

While the death toll in Japan pales in comparison to that of many countries, daily deaths topped 100 for the first time on Tuesday, while the number of people in serious condition reached an all-time high of 1,001, according to Kyodo news. 

Keith Mills, deputy chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee, said the Tokyo Olympics look "unlikely" to go ahead as the pandemic continues to paralyze large parts of the world, calling for Tokyo officials to make plans to cancel the Games. 

But Olympics organizers are "unwavering" on holding the Games, but can't rule out staging it without spectators, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said.

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