Japan aims to have coronavirus vaccines in use by June 2021

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan aims to put coronavirus vaccines into use by June 2021, the health minister said on Friday, as the country strives to be fully ready to host the Tokyo Olympics, originally planned for this summer but postponed by one year due to the pandemic.

Drugmakers around the world are scrambling to develop a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the highly infectious new coronavirus which has so far killed nearly 400,000 people worldwide.

“We will be securing production facilities in parallel with expedited vaccine development,” Japan’s Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters as he outlined plans to bring vaccines into use by the end of the first half of 2021.

Usually, plants for actual vaccine production are arranged only after the successful completion of development.

The Japanese government has earmarked 146 billion yen ($1.34 billion) for vaccine production and distribution in the second extra budget that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved last month.

Japanese pharmaceutical firms developing coronavirus vaccines include Shionogi & Co 4507.T and AnGes Inc 4563.T.

The United States is planning massive clinical trials involving 100,000 to 150,000 volunteers in total, with the goal of delivering an effective vaccine by the end of this year.

Japan has not suffered the explosive surge of coronavirus infections seen in some other countries. It has reported around 17,000 confirmed cases and 900 known deaths to date.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Gareth Jones