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COVID vaccines

Japan PM to meet with Pfizer CEO to quicken vaccine supplies

Suga pushes to secure more shots in August as immunization drive slows

Japan's total vaccination rate is the lowest in the Group of Seven.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga intends to meet with Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla here as early as Friday, seeking faster delivery of coronavirus vaccine shipments as infections rise in the Olympic host city.

Japan is to receive 70 million doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine between July and September, with another 20 million arriving from October to November, according to government plans. Suga hopes to move forward the delivery of 10 million of these latter doses to August.

The call for faster supplies comes as some regions of Japan report shortages of vaccine shots, even as new infections nationwide return to levels last seen in May.

As of Wednesday, 23.7% of Japan's total population and 63.8% of those 65 or older had received both shots. Japan's total vaccination rate is the lowest in the Group of Seven, less than half of the U.K.'s 54%, Canada's 52% and the 48% rate in the U.S., according to Our World in Data.

Suga negotiated directly with Bourla by phone during the prime minister's trip to the U.S. in April, securing an additional 50 million doses for Japan. About 100 million doses were supposed to be delivered to Japan by June, according to the plans.

Suga has announced a goal of completing vaccinations for all those who want the two-dose regimen by October or November.

Japan distributed 18.7 million Pfizer doses to local governments in charge of inoculation drives during two weeks in June. But this pace, which depends on supply from the company, has slowed since July 5.

With fewer shots available, several municipalities have stopped taking new vaccine reservations. The government has urged communities to slow the rate of vaccinations to 1.2 million doses a day nationwide from an estimated 1.4 million.

By receiving some of the Pfizer doses ahead of schedule, Japan hopes to resume the faster pace of vaccinations in August.

Japan also expects to receive 50 million doses of Moderna's vaccine by September, aiding the country's goal of securing enough shots for all residents 12 and older by the end of September.

Countries are racing to secure vaccines even as production capacity remains limited.

"We are not looking to procure an additional number of doses," Taro Kono, the minister in charge of COVID-19 vaccines, has said.

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