New EU export curbs hinder Japan's vaccination rollout

EU export curbs are preventing Japan from finalising its coronavirus vaccination plan, a Tokyo minister said Tuesday, after the bloc introduced a controversial new mechanism for the shipment of jabs made inside its borders.

The country has yet to begin vaccinating its population of 126 million people, although it hopes to give the first doses later in February.

The European Commission, which is facing heavy criticism of its own sluggish Covid-19 vaccine rollout, on Friday brought in a new rule requiring drug-makers to seek approval before exporting vaccines to non-EU countries.

"Because of that, we have not been able to finalise our supply schedule," said Taro Kono, the minister in charge of Japan's vaccine programme.

Japan has reached deals with Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca to buy enough vaccine doses for its population.

But health authorities want to confirm the vaccines' safety through domestic clinical trials before giving any of them a green light.

The jab from Pfizer, which has factories in the EU, will likely be the first approved.

Kono, the outspoken minister for regulatory reform, also called for international measures to prevent so-called "vaccine nationalism" impacting on global health.

On Friday, the Commission launched a scheme to monitor and in some cases bar exports of vaccines produced in EU plants.

Kono said he understood the EU's predicament, but stressed that the export rules had come in after vaccines became available, and had "started to affect supplies".

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