In a street in Yokohama, December 1 in Japan.

Faced with a third wave of Covid-19 contamination that it is struggling to contain due to multiple dithering, the Japanese government has chosen to make vaccines against the coronavirus free. Parliament amended in this sense, Wednesday, December 2, the legislation on vaccines. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to obtain enough vaccines for the 126 million inhabitants of the archipelago in the first half of 2021.

With a budget of 671.4 billion yen (5.3 billion euros), the campaign should begin at the end of March 2021. The new text strongly recommends vaccination but does not oblige it. In the event of serious side effects, the government will cover medical costs and disability pensions. The amendment does not specify whether the process includes foreign residents. They should be, however, the health ministry said.

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The government has chosen to give priority to medical personnel and the elderly. People with chronic illnesses will come next. “We will do everything to put in place a procedure for a smooth vaccination in cooperation with local authorities and medical staff”, government spokesman Katsunobu Kato explained. The process will be based on the distribution of coupons by municipalities.

Accelerated procedure

The Archipelago has made agreements with the American groups Pfizer and Moderna as well as the British giant AstraZeneca to obtain the necessary doses. A fast-track procedure, already used in May to approve the antiviral remdesivir, should be applied for vaccines. Pfizer and AstraZeneca have been conducting clinical trials in Japan since August and October respectively. Their results should be known by the end of January 2021 at the latest. Japanese pharmacy number one Takeda is due to start a trial for Moderna’s vaccine, of which it is expected to produce and market 50 million doses.

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The adoption of the amendment comes as Japan experiences a new peak in contamination. The archipelago recorded 2,434 new cases on December 2, against less than 1,000 per day in early November. He deplored 41 deaths on 1er December, a record since the start of the pandemic which has already killed 2,238 out of 127,963 contaminations.

If it is certainly measured in comparison with the situation in other countries, this third wave – after those of spring and summer – revives the debates on the management of the pandemic by the government. This is considered confusing and too focused on the economy. “The government refuses to learn from the mistakes made in previous waves”, deplored on November 28 the center-left daily Asahi.

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