A panel of health officials in Japan has recommended the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be approved ©Getty Images

Japan looks set to use coronavirus vaccines for the first time after a panel of Japanese health officials recommended the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

According to Japanese news agency Kyodo News, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could receive formal approval in Japan as early as tomorrow.

The backing from a Health Ministry panel comes after around 400,000 doses from Brussels in Belgium arrived at Narita International Airport, near Japanese capital Tokyo, yesterday.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to inoculate citizens "as soon as possible", with 20,000 health workers from across 100 hospitals expected to be vaccinated by the middle of next week.

The rollout of the vaccine will be an important boost for Japan's fight against the virus..

It may also change the attitude of some Japanese residents towards the staging of this year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, with public support appearing to wane due to the global health crisis.

Yesterday, a group of protesters in Japan held banners calling for the Games to be cancelled.

"We've long known that vaccines would play a large role in fighting the novel coronavirus," said Tamura.

"This approval is very significant for that battle going forward, for safeguarding the health of the people."

Protesters call for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to be cancelled ©Getty Images
Protesters call for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to be cancelled ©Getty Images

Japan has reportedly bought 114 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and signed deals with AstraZeneca, Modern and Novavax to secure more than enough of their inoculations to vaccinate the population of 126 million.

The doctors and nurses set to receive the first shots next week will be asked to take part in a study aimed a tracking possible side effects of the vaccine, according to Kyodo News.

By the middle of March, around 3.7 million health workers are scheduled to start receiving their first jab, with people aged 65 and older in line to follow in April.

The next two priority groups include people with pre-existing conditions and those working in care homes, before the vaccine is offered to the rest of the population.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine - which needs to be stored at a temperature of about -75 degree Celsius - has been found to be 95 per cent effective against coronavirus.

The Olympics and Paralympics were originally scheduled to be held last year before being postponed to 2021 because of the pandemic, but doubts still linger over the staging of the event later this year.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura believes the vaccines will play a
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura believes the vaccines will play a "significant" role in the fight against coronavirus ©Getty Images

Earlier this month, the Japanese Government announced it would extend the state of emergency in Tokyo and 10 other prefectures until March 7 due to a high infection rate.

Tokyo reported a further 369 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, making it the 16th straight day the capital has registered fewer than 1,000 infections.

Yesterday, Japan reported 1,300 new cases and 63 deaths.

While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 have stressed vaccines will not be a "silver bullet" for the Games, their development has nonetheless boosted hopes of competition going ahead.  

The IOC has repeatedly said it will not jump the queue ahead of those who need a vaccination most and has insisted it will not be mandatory for athletes to compete at the Games.

A playbook released by the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee for International Federation and technical officials has reiterated vaccines will not be mandatory for participants to attend Tokyo 2020, with measures such as frequent testing, masks and social distancing set to be in place instead.

National Olympic Committees have been encourage to enquire about having athletes vaccinated, however.