Expand booster rollout among young people

The number of new coronavirus cases nationwide has not decreased as expected. The challenge going forward is how to increase the uptake of booster vaccinations among the younger generation.

One month has passed since the complete lifting of quasi-emergency priority measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Although the daily number of new cases has been hovering above levels at the peak of the fifth wave last summer, the government has not asked people to refrain from traveling, based on the assumption that the situation is stable.

According to experts, cases have not surged since the start of the new fiscal and school year, when the movement of people traditionally increases, partly because of increased awareness of preventive measures among the general public. The nation will have a Golden Week holiday without any restrictions for the first time in three years. People must continue to take thorough measures to ensure cases do not increase after the holidays.

As progress has been made in the COVID-19 booster vaccine rollout, the effectiveness of booster shots has also become clear. According to a survey conducted by the Tokyo metropolitan government, the infection rate among people who have received a booster shot is one-third that of those who have only received two doses. With each additional dose, the vaccine is said to be more effective in preventing infection.

Nearly 90% of elderly people have received a third jab, but the uptake among young people has been slow — less than 30% of people in their 20s have received a booster shot. Because the rollout of second shots for young people was delayed, many of them are expected to receive booster shots from now on.

It is important for the government to thoroughly explain to young people the effects and adverse reactions of booster shots.

The vaccine developed by Novavax, Inc. of the United States has been approved in Japan, expanding the number of options available. As it is being manufactured in Japan, supply is expected to be stable.

The Novavax vaccine is different from the ones made by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. so it can be administered to people who are allergic to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Because it is a new vaccine, some people may feel uneasy about it. The government should collect data from overseas and provide information.

In recognition of the delays in previous campaigns, the government is preparing for the swift rollout of the fourth round of vaccinations. This requires a different approach than in the past.

Overseas clinical trials have confirmed that the vaccine prevents severe cases in the elderly, but it is said to be less effective in younger people. For this reason, in Europe and the United States, the fourth round of vaccine doses is being limited to elderly and middle-aged people.

The reason why the fourth dose did not have a significant effect is unknown. Japan must analyze overseas data and determine the target group for additional boosters.

Therapeutic drugs are also an essential part of controlling infectious diseases. In Japan, Shionogi & Co. filed for approval of a domestically produced oral drug in February, but no conclusion has been reached yet. Efforts must be hastened to realize the practical application of a therapeutic drug that can be safely taken by anyone.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 23, 2022)