With the Olympics just months away, Japan issues emergency nod for AstraZeneca, Moderna vaccines

With the already-postponed Summer Olympics in Tokyo just over two months away, Japan is racing to suppress its biggest wave of COVID-19 infections to date. Yet unlike other large and wealthy nations, Japan has vaccinated only a sliver of its population.

Now, Japanese officials are calling in reinforcements.

Japan on Friday approved the emergency use of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and AstraZeneca for people aged 18 and older. Up until now, Japan had only authorized the jab from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. 

For its part, Moderna has partnered with Japanese drugmaker Takeda to import and distribute 50 million doses of its mRNA shot and confirmed on Friday that it’s in discussions for an additional 50 million doses for the start of 2022.

Despite Friday’s authorization, AstraZeneca’s shot won’t be an early boon for Japan. According to local media, government officials are set to delay its rollout at first following concerns of rare but serious blood clots, Reuters reports

RELATED: AstraZeneca taps JCR Pharmaceuticals, Daiichi Sankyo and other local pharmas to supply COVID-19 shots to Japan

Last fall, Japan agreed to buy 120 million doses of AstraZeneca’s adenovirus vaccine, enough for roughly 60 million people. Those shots are made locally with the help of JCR Pharmaceuticals, Daiichi Sankyo and other manufacturers. 

AstraZeneca’s vaccine production is already underway in Japan and first doses are expected “in the coming weeks,” according to a company announcement. A spokesperson wasn’t immediately available to comment on the local media reports. 

Vaccine developers are now racing to get their jabs into Japan ahead of the Summer Olympics. Pfizer said in March that it would send 100 million doses of its vaccine by June, enough for roughly half of the nation’s population. 

Then, earlier this month, the drugmaker said it will also donate doses to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to vaccinate participating athletes and their delegations. 

With the games slated to begin in late July, Japan has so far inoculated less than 5% of its population—the slowest rollout among G7 nations by far. Meanwhile, the country has reported roughly 5,500 cases per day, marking its fourth wave since the pandemic began. 

Part of the reason for the delay is because Japan requires the vaccines to go through additional tests locally to ensure safety. The country is also experiencing a shortage of medical personnel to administer doses, the Associated Press reports

While other countries have started to ease out of their restrictions, Japan is only getting tougher. The nation expanded its state of emergency on Friday to nine prefectures, which including large cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Despite widespread opposition, however, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has maintained the Olympics will go on as planned.