Moderna's COVID-19 given to first Japanese volunteer as Takeda starts trial

FILE PHOTO: Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Moderna logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine was administered to the first test subject in Japan on Thursday, its distributor said, a critical step toward securing enough shots to inoculate the nation’s population.

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co announced the start of a combined phase I and II study of 200 adult volunteers in Japan. The government has purchased 50 million doses of the vaccine, enough for 25 million people, contingent on its regulatory approval.

Takeda, Japan’s biggest drugmaker, is handling domestic trials, regulatory filing and importation of Moderna’s mRNA-based formula. The head of the company’s vaccine division told Reuters this month it would likely take several more months to complete the trial, and said securing approval in May was “the best-case scenario.”

Japan has secured rights to at least 564 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from several Western developers, the biggest quantity in Asia and more than enough for its 126 million population. The health ministry said yesterday it increased its order of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, which is expected to be approved next month.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to have enough vaccines for the population by June before the Summer Games in Tokyo, scheduled to start on July 23.

Takeda is also handling production in Japan of Novavax Inc’s vaccine, with its domestic trial expected to begin next month.

Reporting by Rocky Swift. Editing by Gerry Doyle