Japan's minister in charge of Covid-19 vaccinations, Taro Kano, speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on February 16, 2021.
Japan’s minister in charge of Covid-19 vaccinations, Taro Kano, speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on February 16, 2021. Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images

 

Japan will begin vaccinating its healthcare workers Wednesday with 40,000 doctors and nurses from 100 hospitals across the country receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, according to the head of Japan’s vaccine rollout Taro Kano.

Of those 40,000, we have asked 20,000 doctors and nurses to keep a diary of their health conditions, temperature, headaches and whatever happens to them,” Kano said. “We will monitor them for 21 days then they will get a second shot starting from March 10.”

After the first round of doctors and nurses, the rollout will continue for 3.7 million doctors, pharmacists, nurses, ambulance drivers and other frontline workers, Kano added.

Inoculations for senior citizens will begin in April and the country aims to complete vaccination of the public within the year.

Olympics at stake: The rollout comes as Japan is scheduled to host the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in July, despite increasing public opposition and rising costs.

A poll last month by national broadcaster NHK found that 77% of people in Japan think the Games should be canceled or further postponed, largely due to the logistical hurdles that stand in the way of hosting such a massive event in the middle of a public health crisis. 

The country’s medical system has been overwhelmed, even though it has the most hospital beds per capita in the developed world. Cases have more than doubled in the past two months to more than 406,000, stretching Japan’s medical system to the brink.

Japan was among the last major economies to approve the use of a coronavirus vaccine and begin the rollout, raising further questions about the country’s ambitious plan to reach necessary immunity levels in time for the competition. 

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last month his government is “determined” to “realize a safe and secure Olympics.”

Kano, the head of the vaccination efforts, said in Tuesday’s news conference that “the Olympic Games is not on my schedule… we need to think about the concrete number of supply and then we’ll come up with a possible target,” when asked about when Japan is expected to reach the herd immunity benchmark.