UPDATE 1-Japan to start inoculation drive Wednesday with 40,000 medical workers

(Updates with quote, details)

TOKYO, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Japan will begin its COVID-19 inoculation drive on Wednesday, starting with 40,000 medical workers, Japan’s vaccination programme chief Taro Kono said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The government officially approved Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday, the first such approval in the country grappling a third wave of infections.

“We will start our inoculation drive tomorrow, with about 40,000 medical workers who have been raised as candidates” to become the first to get the vaccine, Kono said.

The European Union has approved the second shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to Japan, which is expected to arrive next week, he added.

Japan will be the last member of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialised nations to launch a vaccination drive.

The government plans to inoculate medical workers first, then people aged 65 or above, those with health conditions, and workers at elderly care facility workers.

Japan, with a population of 126 million, has so far signed contracts to procure 314 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer Inc, AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc, enough for 157 million people. (Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Sakura Murakami; Editing by Alex Richardson and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)