Japan moves to secure half-billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine, hopeful of hosting delayed Summer Olympics

The 521 million vaccine doses should instill confidence, the government believes

Japan has moved to secure a half-billion doses of coronavirus vaccines in a bid to prove it  can still host the Summer Olympics next year, according to reports.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga claimed that Japan was working with Olympic organizers on how to go ahead with the Games, emphasizing that a vaccine was essential to any effort to stage the event.

Various companies “will probably be able to produce a vaccine between the end of this year and next March," Suga told Reuters in an interview this week. “There are a lot of considerations, but we want to hold the Olympics at all costs.”

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The government is on track to secure 521 million doses of five different vaccines, more than four times its population of 126 million. Japan is working on arrangements with companies including Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca PLC and even local companies such as Shionogi & Co.

“You have to bet evenly to avoid getting nothing,” said Tomoya Saito, director at Japan’s National Institute of Public Health.

A broad approach has been the norm, with other nations similarly striking deals with multiple drug makers to ensure that some vaccine will be available as soon as possible.

The U.S. government last month reached a $1.95 billion deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for 100 million doses of their experimental vaccine once it obtains Food and Drug administration approval.

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"Adding a vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech" to the government's Operation Warp Speed inoculation-development program "increases the odds that we will have a safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

A coalition of European governments have also worked on a deal with AstraZeneca. Spain joined France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands to secure a supply of 400 million doses of the vaccine as of June 2020.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday announced that he would resign as his health condition recently worsened, but his ambition to host the Olympics remains a priority for his government. Abe described his decision as “gut wrenching,” but necessary, the New York Times reported.

“I think the Olympics would have been the one major thing he could point to and say, 'Yes, I did that. I made that happen,'” David Leheny, a politics professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University, told the Times. “He still might, and I think whoever the next prime minister is will ensure Abe has a prominent place at the Olympics, but it won't be the same as his being in charge to welcome people.”

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During his resignation speech, Abe pledged that the government would secure enough vaccine for Japan by the middle of 2021 and that the nation would relax its travel ban from Sept. 1.