Saturday’s Mainichi and Nikkei reported that the GOJ has reached an agreement with the UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to start negotiations on supplying Japan with several million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that is currently under joint development between Astra Zeneca and Oxford University, with the goal of administering it starting next spring. While noting that three Japanese biotech firms will collaborate with the UK drugmaker on the production and delivery of the vaccine in Japan, Nikkei speculated that the Health Ministry may use its “exceptional approval” mechanism to authorize the use of the vaccine even in the absence of clinical trials in Japan. The two sides will reportedly discuss the delivery schedule, volume, and price of the vaccine. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga reportedly acknowledged the plan to start the negotiations, telling the press on Friday: “The vaccine will play an extremely import role. The government is committed to securing enough doses.”
In a related story, Saturday’s Asahi wrote that the GOJ is very eager to assist Japanese companies and institutions with developing and producing a domestic vaccine for the coronavirus since foreign manufacturers may not be able to supply enough doses. The Health Ministry earmarked some 138 billion yen ($1.29 billion) in the FY2020 supplementary budget for helping them set up production lines even though their vaccine development efforts might not succeed. The paper expressed the view that the GOJ and drug manufacturers must not compromise on regulatory procedures to verify the safety of vaccines.