Japan approves Novavax COVID-19 vaccine
Japan approves Novavax COVID-19 vaccine

Japan approves Novavax COVID-19 vaccine


TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s health ministry on Tuesday formally approved Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine, a fourth foreign-developed tool to fight infections, as the country sees signs of a resurgence led by a sub-variant of fast-spreading omicron.

The ministry’s approval comes the day after its panel of experts approved the use of Novavax’s protein vaccine, designed with similar technology used to fight diseases such as influenza and hepatitis B, for the first two shots and a booster.

Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters that the Novavax product adds variety to the choices available and may appeal to those who are reluctant to use COVID-19 vaccines such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, which are designed with newer technologies.

Jabs using Novavax vaccine are expected to start as early as the end of May.

Japan reported 24,164 new cases Monday, according to the health ministry. Japan in March lifted all COVID-19 restrictions as the infections declined markedly, but experts noticed signs of a resurgence in a number of prefectures during a season of travel and parties for people marking graduation and the start of the academic year and business year.

The government is trying to expand businesses and get the pandemic-hit economy back on track. Japan is slowly easing border controls after sharp criticism for its long-standing restrictions on non-resident foreign students, academics and business people, but Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said Japan is not considering restarting inbound tourism right now.

Booster shots have been slow in Japan, and less than 50% of the population had received booster shots of primarily mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. A third vaccine, AstraZeneca, is rarely used due to public concern about reports of rare blood clots and is largely donated to Asian countries that lack vaccine, bilaterally or through a UN-funded program. About 80% of the Japanese elderly population had received three shots.

Goto said Japan has agreed to buy 150 million doses of Novavax shots developed by the Maryland company, which will help stabilize the vaccine supply in a country that is fully dependent on foreign imports, while developing its own vaccines have lagged behind. Novavax’s distributor in Japan, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., produces locally 250 million doses annually.

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