Interviewed by Yusuke Oshima
Sankei Shimbun: You have been vaccine minister for almost two months now. What have you been focusing on?
Minister Kono: My biggest focus has been on finding ways to help local governments do their COVID vaccination work more easily and flexibly. The National Governors’ Association, the Japan Association of City Mayors, and the National Association of Towns and Villages send us all sorts of requests, and we try to meet them as fully as possible.
Sankei: Do you receive instructions from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga?
Kono: The Prime Minister asks, “How much faster can you [administer the vaccinations]?” Our answer is, “We will do our best.” Not every single time, but quite often that’s what he says to me.
Sankei: Difficult negotiations continue with U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the European Union (EU).
Kono: Pfizer has been very cooperative. The point of concern with the EU is the “export transparency and authorization mechanism,” (which does not allow the export of vaccines if the supply within the EU is insufficient). EU sources tell us that they don’t expect difficulties in exporting vaccines to Japan, but they still won’t immediately consent to approving bulk [exports].
Sankei: Inoculation of the elderly will start on April 12.
Kono: We have received some complaints that medical workers are not yet fully vaccinated. If some doctors and nurses have not yet received the vaccine, we encourage them to vaccinate themselves. It’s part of the flexibility we are trying to promote. If there are any other concerns, I am ready to listen to those, as well.
In the early days, I expect local governments won’t be fully confident about how many vaccinations they can administer per day, considering that a doctor will see each recipient prior to vaccination, and it will take time for the person to take off their coat, roll up their sleeves, and get ready for the shot. In April, the temperature differs widely between Hokkaido and Okinawa, and people are dressed differently as a result. We can gradually increase the number of vaccinations administered based on the local governments’ assessment of how things go in the first weeks of the inoculation program.
Sankei: What does the vaccine supply schedule look like?
Kono: Starting in May, Japan will receive approximately 10 million doses per week. I believe there won’t be a bottleneck in supply. We will be able to provide the number of vaccine doses that correspond to the rate of inoculation in each prefecture. Things would really be going well if we found 10 million doses per week to be insufficient.
Sankei: When do you expect all elderly will be inoculated and the vaccination of the general public will begin?
Kono: It will depend on how quickly the vaccinations are administered and the number of elderly residing in the given local government’s jurisdiction.
Sankei: Hopes are high for the vaccines.
Kono: We also want to reach young people. Just recently, we disseminated a message on COVID vaccination at Tokyo Girls Collection, which is the largest domestic fashion event. Vaccine PR needs to reach women of that generation.
Sankei: How about syringes that enable six shots per vial?
Kono: Starting in April, medical workers will receive the shot using syringes that enable six doses per vial. We are still in negotiations over the use of such syringes with the elderly. We are doing our best to make that happen as soon as possible.