Japan's government is stepping up preparations to start vaccinations against the coronavirus as early as late February.
The government is giving top priority to quick assessment of coronavirus vaccines for regulatory approval. It regards inoculations as a crucial means to contain the pandemic while keeping the economy running.
Japan has contracts with three US and European pharmaceutical companies for a total of 290 million doses of their vaccines.
One of them, US firm Pfizer, applied in December for Japan's approval for the vaccine it developed with its German partner BioNTech. Japan's health minister says top priority would be given to screening it quickly.
The decision on whether to approve the vaccine is expected in February at the earliest.
The government plans to give shots to healthcare workers first. That will take place as soon as late February. It says elderly people will likely start getting inoculated in late March, to be followed by people with underlying health conditions.
Officials are asking local governments to advance preparations so vaccinations can start as soon as approval comes through. They are requested to select places to store doses and give vaccinations, and prepare coupons needed to receive shots.
The officials are also preparing for disclosure of information on possible side effects and how to deal with them, including observations after injections. Cases of severe allergic reactions have been reported abroad.