Drugmaker Takeda asks Japan for approval of Moderna COVID-19 coup

TOKYO (Reuters) – Takeda Pharmaceutical said it asked regulators to approve the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, which would add a third option to Japan’s vaccination schedule.

Japan started vaccinations last month using Pfizer’s vaccine, which was the first to be approved for home use, but which is imported from European factories and is in short supply.

Takeda, which handles the Japanese approval process and imports of around 50 million Moderna doses, previously said approval could be given in May.

“Takeda is committed to delivering Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate to Japan as quickly as possible,” Masayuki Imagawa, head of its vaccine business unit in Japan, said in a statement.

British drug maker AstraZeneca sought approval from Japan for its COVID-19 vaccine early last month, with a decision still pending.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters that Japan will thoroughly test AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines.

“Once their safety is confirmed, we will enter the approval process,” he said, adding that the Moderna vaccine was essential to ensure that all Japanese people are vaccinated.

Takeda is also handling the approval process and domestic production of around 250 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which entered clinical trials in Japan last month.

Takeda plans to start distributing the Moderna vaccine in the first half of this year, with the Novavax vaccine expected in late 2021.

Japan has secured rights to at least 564 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from several foreign manufacturers, the largest volume in Asia and more than enough for its population of 126 million.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to have enough doses by June, before the Tokyo Olympics start on July 23, postponed from last year due to COVID-19.

Reporting by Rocky Swift and Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alexander Smith