TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday his government is accelerating COVID-19 booster shots and securing oral medicines after speaking with Pfizer Inc. CEO Albert Burla.
Japan has confirmed a handful of omicron variant cases, while revealing a cluster of infections of about 100 U.S. troops on Japan's southern island of Okinawa since earlier this month.
Japan, which lacks home-developed vaccines, has so far approved booster shots from Pfizer and Moderna. Japan is also moving to shorten the interval between the second jab and boosters.
Kishida said the government will start giving booster shots to elderly people seven months after their second shot starting February. He also said he and Burla agreed on Pfizer's supply of 2 million doses of oral medicine for COVID-19, in addition to Merck pills expected to be approved by the end of the month.
Japan on Dec. 1 started giving booster shots to medical workers using the Pfizer vaccine, with the elderly expected to be next in line. The Health Ministry on Thursday granted fast-track approval for the Moderna boosters. Japan already uses both, as well as the AstraZeneca vaccine, for the first two shots.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Japan signed deals with Pfizer and Moderna for a combined 170 million doses, which he said would be “enough to cover necessary doses.”
Kishida was believed to have asked Burla to speed up the supply schedule. But the prime minister declined to give details of the vaccine supply and only said further details are still negotiated.
On Okinawa, health officials confirmed the omicron infection in a Japanese employee, a man in his 50s, at the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Hansen, which reported to the prefecture 70 new cases of coronavirus infection among its troops recently transferred from the U.S. aboard a military aircraft. It brought the cluster at the camp to 99, Okinawan officials said.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters Friday that he has requested the U.S. military to conduct a genome analysis on the samples to step up anti-virus measures and to strictly isolate the troops and keep them from leaving the camp.
Tokyo on Thursday confirmed its first case of the omicron variant in a traveler from the United States who was isolating at home. Her friend whom she saw shortly after arrival has since tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a soccer game. His infection with the omicron was confirmed Friday.
The Health Ministry also said Thursday that one of its quarantine officials tested positive for the omicron variant. The new findings bring Japan’s confirmed omicron cases to 34.
Japan’s government says all omicron cases so far have been detected by its border controls, but experts say it is only a matter of time before community transmission cases start surfacing.
Japan has stepped up border controls since the omicron variant was first reported in South Africa, and now bans entry to most foreign nationals. Japan has had about 1.73 million cases since the pandemic began, with about 18,400 deaths.
Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press