Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has asked Pfizer for additional supplies of the Covid-19 vaccine to speed up an inoculation drive that lags behind many other countries.
Mr Suga, after holding talks with President Joe Biden at the White House, wrapped up his Washington visit on Saturday with a phone call to Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla.
Taro Kono, a Cabinet minister tasked with vaccinations, told a Japanese television talk show on Sunday that the two sides have “practically reached an agreement” over the vaccines.
Mr Suga asked the Pfizer boss for additional supplies that would cover all eligible recipients by September, as well as to ensure the stable and prompt delivery of the ongoing vaccine shipments, Japanese officials said on Sunday.
According to the officials, Mr Burla told the Japanese leader that Pfizer planned to closely coordinate with the government in Tokyo to discuss the requests.
Japan, with its domestic vaccine development still in early stages, has to rely on imports and has signed agreements with Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna, though the Pfizer jab is the only one the country has approved so far.
Japan’s government says it has secured 314 million doses, including 144 million doses from Pfizer, which is enough to cover its entire population by the end of this year.
Inoculations started in mid-February and have covered less than 1% of the population, with the process hampered by the shortage of vaccines amid export controls by the European Union.
Mr Kono has said the pace of the vaccine shipments is expected to pick up beginning in May.
Addressing concerns about the shortage of medical workers administering the jabs, the government recently revised a law to recruit nurses who have retired or are on leave to temporarily help with the vaccinations.
The rise in cases led the government to issue an alert status for Tokyo and nine other urban prefectures.
It has also fueled doubts about whether or how the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled from July 23 until August 8, can go ahead.
Japan added 4,532 cases on Saturday for a total of 525,218 since the pandemic began, with 9,584 deaths.