TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan plans to secure about 20,000 freezers for hospital storage of coronavirus vaccines, as the country steps up preparations for their delivery, government officials said Tuesday.
The government will purchase deep freezers and distribute them to medical facilities nationwide, with vaccinations expected to start in the country in late February, commencing with medical workers.
The government will sign contracts with four freezer makers, possibly in early February, at an estimated cost of more than 10 billion yen ($96.4 million), according to the officials.
With a population of around 126 million, Japan is set to obtain 310 million vaccine doses from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc., enough for 157 million people.
The vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE has to be stored at minus 75 C or lower, while that of U.S. biotech company Moderna Inc. can be shipped and stored over a six-month period if kept in a freezer at minus 20 C.
The vaccine developed by Britain's AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford can be stored in normal refrigerators.
The economy ministry and the health ministry have requested that the four manufacturers -- PHC Holdings Corp., Nihon Freezer Co., and EBAC Co., all based in Tokyo, and Kanou Reiki in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture -- boost their production capacity.
A total of 10,000 freezers made by the four manufacturers will be used to store the Pfizer vaccine, which could be approved for inoculation in Japan in mid-February if everything goes as planned, according to the officials.
Another 10,000 freezers from the three Tokyo companies are expected to store the Moderna vaccine, they said.
The government plans to distribute 1,500 freezers for the Pfizer vaccine to designated vaccination facilities by late February, 3,300 units by late March and the rest by late June.
As for the 10,000 units to store the Moderna vaccine, a concrete delivery schedule has yet to be decided, according to the officials.