Photo/Illutration Taro Kono, administrative reform minister, attends an extraordinary Cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office on Jan. 18. (Kotaro Ebara)

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has put administrative reform minister Taro Kono in charge of the formidable task of vaccinating the population against COVID-19.

“I instructed Kono to coordinate the entire vaccination effort,” Suga told reporters at the prime minister’s office on Jan. 18. “I would like to do my best to be able to deliver safe and effective vaccines to the people.”

The prime minister repeated his hopes in his policy speech on Jan. 18 that inoculations can start in Japan at the end of February using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

In the newly created Cabinet post, Kono will have to coordinate efforts among various government ministries, agencies and associations to prepare for the supply and distribution of the vaccine.

“Suga asked me to take charge of logistics and coordinate efforts comprehensively to allow vaccinations to take place smoothly,” Kono said. “I would like to start hearing from each relevant ministry about the current situation.

He added, “I think that we must be ready to vaccinate as many people as possible and as quickly as possible to prevent them from falling into serious condition.”

Novel coronavirus infections have surged around Japan, and 11 prefectures have been placed under a state of emergency. Suga, who has been increasingly criticized over his response to the health crisis, has described vaccines as the “the decisive factor” in ending the pandemic.

Suga said on Jan. 18 that preparations for vaccinations “have been done under the directions of the prime minister’s office and each minister. From now on, we will bolster our efforts and readiness.”

He said he put Kono in charge of the vaccination program because he “has solved inter-ministerial problems as the regulatory reform minister.”