TOKYO (REUTERS) – The Japanese government is considering providing part of the national supply of Covid-19 vaccines secured from AstraZeneca to Taiwan, Japan’s Sankei newspaper reported on Friday (May 28), citing government and ruling party sources.
The move comes as Taiwan battles a spike in domestic infections and only about 1 per cent of the 23 million population have been vaccinated so far.
Japan approved AstraZeneca’s vaccine last week and has contracted to buy 120 million doses.
But there are no immediate plans to use the shots in the country, amid lingering concerns raised internationally over blood clots.
A Japanese ruling party committee on Taiwan relations said on Friday it would call on the government to supply a portion of Japan’s AstraZeneca vaccine stock to Taiwan.
“We should provide Taiwan with vaccines as soon as possible,” the head of the policy group, Mr Masahisa Sato said at a press briefing following a meeting of lawmakers.
“When Japan was in need Taiwan sent us two million masks,” added Mr Sato, who has served as a deputy defence minister and a deputy foreign minister.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry declined to directly comment on the report, but said the government was working hard to obtain vaccines either via manufacturers or the Covax global sharing scheme.
It added that Taipei was also seeking “like-minded countries to help obtain vaccines, and efforts have not ceased”.
The recommendation will be included in a set of proposals the policy group will give to Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, aimed at bolstering diplomatic and security ties with Taiwan as concern in Japan grows over China’s increasing pressure on the island.
AstraZeneca’s local partner Daiichi Sankyo Co started bottling the vaccine in March and the stockpile is currently estimated at around 30 million doses which will expire by September if not used.
The amount is set to increase as AstraZeneca added Nipro Corp this week as its third local partner to conduct filling and packaging of the vaccine.
Japan started its inoculation drive in mid-February, later than most major economies and using imported doses of the shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
A vaccine developed by Moderna also went into use this week with the opening of mass vaccination centres.
Japan will likely keep some of AstraZeneca’s adenovirus-type shots for people with allergies to mRNA-type vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna, and give away the rest, said Dr Haruka Sakamoto, a physician and researcher at Keio University in Tokyo.
“Japan will probably announce that they will donate the AZ vaccine that they already have a contract with and supply Covax with the AZ vaccine they will produce in Japan,” she said.
Japan is also looking to extend a state of emergency in Tokyo and several other areas by about three weeks to June 20, a cabinet minister said on Friday, as the Covid-19 pandemic shows no signs of easing less than two months before the Summer Olympics open.
The state of emergency in the capital and eight other prefectures had been scheduled to end on May 31, but strains on the medical system remain severe.
Japan has seen a record number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition in recent days, even as the number of new infections have slowed.
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