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May 7, 2021

Tens of millions of unused Covid-19 vaccine doses are reportedly beginning to pile up in Japan as the country struggles to speed up its immunization program, while a surge in cases fueled by infectious variants has prompted authorities to extend a state of emergency, including in Tokyo, weeks before the Olympics are scheduled to start.


Japan has only been able to administer 15% of its stockpile of 28 million doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccines, while 24 million doses continue to sit in freezers, Reuters reported.

The country’s vaccine stockpile is expected to expand further after it approves two other vaccines, the Moderna shot—whose first batch has already arrived in the country—and AstraZeneca’s vaccine—30 million does of which have been manufactured locally.


Several logistical hurdles—primarily lack of manpower in distributing and administering the doses—have impacted Japan’s rollout as the demand for the vaccine among its elderly population remains high.

The Japanese government on Friday decided to extend its state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and two other regions till May 31 as it contends with a worrying spike in Covid-19 cases.

The national government has set an ambitious target of immunizing 36 million elderly people by July, a feat which will require the administering of 800,000 doses a day—an eleven-fold increase from its overall daily average of 68,000 doses so far.

2.2%. That’s the percentage of Japan’s 126 million-strong population who have received at least one dose of the vaccine according to Bloomberg’s global vaccination tracker. Reuters notes that this makes it the slowest rollout among wealthy countries.

The report of Japan’s growing stockpile of unused Covid-19 vaccines come at a time when several countries, especially India, are struggling to produce or acquire adequate doses to innoculate their population. Earlier this week, U.S. philanthropist Melinda Gates urged wealthy nations to stop “hoarding” coronavirus vaccines, stating: “You don’t need to vaccinate all the way down, say, to your teen population . . . before you send out vaccine doses. Gates added that it was “incredibly unfortunate” that low-income nations were not receiving enough shots and some “can’t even vaccinate their healthcare workers”.

The slow vaccine rollout and the extension of a state of emergency due to a surge in new cases have led to questions about the feasibility of the Tokyo Olympic games which are scheduled to start in July. The prospect of organizing the games amid a surging pandemic is facing pushback from people in Japan and a petition to call off the games has now reached 223,000 signatures. The petition was launched earlier this week by Kenji Utsunomiya, a lawyer who has run for governor of Tokyo several times as an independent candidate. The petition argues that it is “highly possible” the Olympic Games will become a “superspreader” event that will “cause danger and fear to healthcare workers, citizens and participants.” Despite this, Japan and the International Olympic Committee insist that the games will take place in Tokyo as planned, though foreign spectators will be banned from attending. Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said on Friday that a decision on allowing domestic spectators will be made in June.

On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee announced that it has struck a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to secure doses of their Covid-19 vaccine which will be offered free of charge to all athletes and officials preparing to participate in the Olympics and Paralympics. Delivery of the doses is set to begin this month to ensure Olympic delegations have enough time to be fully vaccinated with two doses of the shot before arriving in Tokyo for the games.

Source: Forbes
Image Source: Getty Images