TOKYO, July 30 (Xinhua) -- A Japanese health ministry panel on Friday approved the domestic use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Britain's AstraZeneca Plc. for people aged 40 and older in principle due to a supply shortage of vaccines, local media reported.
The central government will supply the vaccine to local governments depending on their demand, with a schedule for safety research, possibly conducted by Self-Defense Forces personnel, due to haunting worries over rare side effects.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare speeded up the approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine in May, but the government delayed supplying the doses, because of concerns on reported rare cases of blood clots among the young overseas.
In Britain, a government advisory body suggested people under the age of 40 get an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine as rare cases of blood clots and low platelet count are observed.
Japan's inoculation program currently utilizes the vaccines developed by U.S. pharmaceutical companies Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc.
Also on Friday, the ministry panel approved extending the eligible age range for the Moderna vaccine from people aged 18 and older to those aged 12 years and older.
The Moderna vaccine had been used in vaccination programs at workplaces but hit a supply bottleneck, and the central government's supplies of the Pfizer vaccine have failed to meet the speed of local governments' inoculations.
Under the pressure of criticism over its slow vaccine rollout, the Japanese government obviously shifted measures toward approving the practical use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged 40 and over, following the previous plan to supply the doses for only those aged 60 or older.
Compared with the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which must be stored in freezers at temperatures as low as around minus 75 degrees Celsius, the AstraZeneca shot holds the advantage of being storable in refrigerators between 2-8 degrees Celsius.
AstraZeneca licensed Japanese biotechnology company JCR Pharmaceuticals Co. to produce some doses, which will be easier for Japan to meet the domestic needs of the vaccination. Enditem