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Japan, Pfizer making deal for 120 million 'booster' third vaccines in 2022

Syringes for coronavirus vaccinations are seen. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government and U.S. pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer have reportedly broadly agreed to a contract supplying an additional 120 million doses of the latter's coronavirus vaccine in 2022, as part of efforts to administer "booster" third doses, it was learned on Aug. 16.

    Moves to maintain immunity with a third shot among people who have already received two are expanding mainly in developed nations. The Japanese government has also begun investigations into giving medical professionals and elderly people third doses upon completion of their second shots.

    Vaccines currently in use in Japan are thought to provide adequate immunity after two doses. But due to factors including lack of clarity on the duration of vaccines' ability to prevent developing COVID-19 and serious cases of the disease, and the emergence of the more infectious delta variant, more figures within the government are of the view that a "booster" additional immunity-strengthening vaccination is necessary.

    As part of next year's vaccine supplies, the government has already signed an additional procurement contract with U.S.-based Moderna and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., which handles domestic supplies of Moderna's vaccines, for 50 million doses. With the 120 million more doses from Pfizer, Japan could secure a total of 170 million vaccines for 2022, which would amply cover the people's needs for third shots.

    Minister in charge of Administrative Reform Taro Kono said on an Aug. 16 Japanese satellite TV show, "We have secured enough stocks to give third shots to people who have had their second Pfizer and Moderna vaccines this year." He added that the government has also reached a supply agreement with Pfizer and that it will soon be able to share details of its content.

    The government is also in negotiations with U.S. firm Novavax Inc. for 150 million doses of its vaccine, but their product is yet to be put to general use even abroad. Kono said, "It's a backup in case something happens with Pfizer or Moderna."

    As part of this year's vaccine supply, the government has signed agreements with Pfizer for 194 million doses, 50 million with Moderna and 120 million with AstraZeneca. Pfizer is the most used vaccine, with its uptake concentrated particularly in municipally administered vaccinations.

    On the same TV show, Kono said regarding the start of third rounds of inoculations: "Once we have thoroughly given second-round vaccinations to those who want them, we will think about the third-round boosters." In light of examples overseas, the plan the government sees as most favorable is to distribute booster shots in an order starting with immune-compromised people along with medical staff and elderly people vaccinated at an early stage.

    (Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Lifestyle and Medical News Department, and Kazuhiko Hori, Political News Department)

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