TOKYO (Kyodo) -- More than 50 percent of Japan's population has received two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine, with the vaccination rate on course to soon draw level with major economies in Europe, the minister in charge of coronavirus response said Sunday.
"If vaccination moves ahead at the current pace, it will surpass 60 percent by the end of this month," Yasutoshi Nishimura said on a TV program, drawing a comparison with current rates in Britain and France.
Japan initially lagged behind other major economies in inoculating its population but has made relatively fast progress since.
In the United States, about 53 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while more than 80 percent of people in Singapore have received two doses.
The government aims to complete the full vaccination of all those eligible and willing to get the shots by early November.
The vaccination program began in February with health care workers first in line and then expanded to those aged 65 or older from April. People under 65 began receiving shots in some municipalities and at their places of work later.
Nishimura said increasing the vaccination rate to 80 percent will have a considerable impact on COVID infection numbers.
Japan is currently battling surging COVID infections, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, with the health care system under strain.
While a state of emergency will be extended for Tokyo and 18 prefectures from Monday, the government has also laid out plans for a November easing of recommendations against traveling and large events once a high proportion of the population has been vaccinated.