Japan mulls new COVID vaccine chief as it seeks to fast-track 3rd injections

A proposal for the economic revitalization minister to double as immunization chief is in the works, with Japan aiming to decide on a new appointment by the end of March, according to people familiar with the situation.

Noriko Horiuchi, Japan’s minister in charge of promoting COVID-19 vaccinations, gives an interview at the Cabinet Office in Tokyo on January 14, 2022. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is responsible for the Japanese government’s response to COVID-19, speaks to reporters in Tokyo on February 10, 2022. (Kyodo)

The proposed decision to replace current immunization minister Noriko Horiuchi comes as the government seeks to speed up the provision of COVID-19 reminders in the face of criticism from opposition parties and the public that progress has been slow.

Daishiro Yamagiwa, in his capacity as Minister of Economic Revitalization, was commended for his handling of the implementation of quasi-state of emergency measures against the virus, including his interactions with local government leaders and the way which he answered questions in parliament.

Horiuchi, on the other hand, has been criticized for her responses to questions during parliamentary sessions.

A member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party faction led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, she replaced Taro Kono as vaccine czar last year, while also becoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics minister in the summer. last.

This last position should be abolished at the end of March.

Yamagiwa’s decision to succeed him as head of vaccines will coincide with the end of her tenure as Olympic minister, likely leaving her out of cabinet, the sources say.

Some government officials have also considered Shigeyuki Goto, Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, as a candidate to double down on immunization promotion duties, but there are concerns about the potential additional workload for him. , according to sources.

Currently, there are 20 ministerial posts under Kishida’s government.

The Cabinet Act caps the number of cabinet ministers at 17, but allows for the appointment of a minister responsible for the Olympics, reconstruction, as well as the World Expo, for a certain period.

A source said that with vaccination efforts still halfway through the end of March, the position of Minister of Immunization as overall coordinator is a crucial appointment.

In early February, Kishida pledged to accelerate the country’s inoculation campaign to administer 1 million boosters a day in the second half of the month, in a bid to stem infections caused by the highly transmissible variant of Omicron.

At the time, the government said only 5.9% of Japan’s 125 million people, or about 7.47 million people, had received a third injection since early December. By Tuesday, that figure had risen to 15.3%, according to the government.

The percentage is much lower than in Britain, France and Germany, where more than 50% of the population received a booster shot.

A Kyodo News phone survey of 1,054 eligible voters, released over the weekend, showed 73.5% believe progress on the government’s recall program is slow.

== Kyōdo