Japanese PM, Pfizer CEO Hold Call to Discuss Vaccine Supply

TOKYO (AP) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone with Pfizer Inc. CEO Albert Burla on Friday, apparently to ensure a rapid supply of COVID-19 vaccines for booster shots amid the global spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Japan, which lacks home-developed vaccines, has so far approved booster shots from U.S. pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna Inc. Japan is set to shorten the interval between second injections and boosters by eight. months to six amid increasing global cases and fears of more community transmissions to homes.

Kishida reportedly asked Burla to speed up the procurement schedule accordingly.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno confirmed talks between Kishida and Burla but declined to give further details. He said the prime minister planned to explain the vaccination plans later on Friday.

Matsuno told reporters that Japan had signed deals with Pfizer and Moderna for a total of 170 million doses in the form of boosters, which he said would be “enough to cover the doses needed.”

On December 1, Japan began giving reminders to medical workers using the Pfizer vaccine, with the elderly expected to be next. The Health Department on Thursday granted fast-track approval for the Moderna vaccine to be used in booster shots. Japan is already using both, along with the AstraZeneca vaccine, for the first two injections.

Kishida’s talks with the CEO of Pfizer come amid growing concerns about a possible increase in community transmission of the omicron variant in Japan.

Tokyo on Thursday confirmed its first case of the omicron variant in a traveler from the United States who was self-isolating at home. Her male friend whom she saw shortly after arriving has since tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a football game. The human samples are still being analyzed to determine the variant.

In addition, the Ministry of Health announced Thursday that one of its quarantine officials had tested positive for the omicron variant. The new findings bring the number of confirmed cases of omicron in Japan to 34.

The Japanese government says all cases of omicron have so far been detected by its border checks, but experts say it is only a matter of time before cases of community transmission start to take hold. area.

Japan has stepped up its border controls since the omicron variant was first reported in South Africa and now prohibits entry to most foreign nationals. Japan has recorded around 1.73 million cases since the start of the pandemic, with around 18,400 deaths.