Japan begins COVID-19 vaccination drive amid supply worry

Delivery staff move a box of Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine on a carriage at the hospital in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Japan's COVID-19 vaccinations are scheduled to begin Wednesday after the government granted belated first approval to a shot co-developed by Pfizer Inc. (Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP)
Delivery staff move a box of Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine on a carriage at the hospital in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Japan's COVID-19 vaccinations are scheduled to begin Wednesday after the government granted belated first approval to a shot co-developed by Pfizer Inc. (Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP)

TOKYO – Japan's first coronavirus shots were given to health workers Wednesday, beginning a vaccination campaign considered crucial to holding the already delayed Tokyo Olympics.

The progress the campaign might make is uncertain, however, in a country concerned about possible shortages of imported vaccines and where people are often reluctant to take vaccines due to worries of side effects.

The massive drive comes after the government gave its belated first approval Sunday for shots developed and supplied by Pfizer, which have been used in many other countries since December.

Japan fell behind after it asked Pfizer to conduct clinical tests with Japanese people in addition to the company’s earlier tests in six other nations. But officials say it was necessary to address the concerns of many Japanese about safety in a country known for low vaccine confidence.

Supplies of imported vaccines are a major concern because of supply shortages and restrictions in Europe, where many are manufactured. Supplies of imported vaccines will determine the progress of vaccination drive in Japan, the country's vaccine minister Taro Kono said Tuesday.

Some of 40,000 doctors and nurses from 100 selected hospitals across the country received their first shots Wednesday, with their second shot planned for March 10. Half will participate in a 7-week health survey.

After weeks of delay, Japan's inoculation program is running on a tight schedule.

Vaccines arrived in a Tokyo hospital late Tuesday, the night before inoculations for its staff started Wednesday morning.