Japan wants to shorten interval for COVID-19 booster

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters about the omicron coronavirus variant at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Monday.

COVID-19 booster shots may be offered to people sooner than eight months after their second shot due to the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, according to a draft of the policy speech that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to deliver at an extraordinary Diet session on Monday.

Under the current policy, people will be offered a third vaccine dose if at least eight months have passed since their second dose.

In the event of such situations as an infection cluster at a medical facility, patients and workers will be allowed to receive vaccinations if only six months have passed since their second shot.

The spread of the omicron variant has prompted calls to offer booster shots after a six-month interval in a wider range of circumstances.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

At a press conference on Wednesday, Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa said, “It’s necessary to consider expediting booster campaigns, starting with local governments that have established vaccination systems.”

A Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker said, “We can’t wait for clusters to appear before we start administering inoculations.”

According to the draft, the government will assess the effectiveness of existing vaccines on the omicron variant and plans to also approve and use the Moderna Inc. vaccine in the booster campaign to speed up the schedule.

Government officials are considering shorting the interval for booster shots for people such as senior citizens, people with underlying health conditions and residents in densely populated cities.

However, there are still issues to be resolved regarding whether the central government will be able to supply enough vaccine doses and whether local governments will be able to set up vaccination systems in time.

According to the draft, Kishida is also expected to announce that the government aims to approve an oral drug to treat COVID-19 by the end of the year. Oral drugs are positioned as an important part of future coronavirus countermeasures.

“[Oral drugs] will be delivered to medical sites immediately after approval,” according to the draft, which states that the government will develop laws to enable prompt approval of drugs in the event of an emergency.

The draft also includes a plan to compile measures by June next year to strengthen pandemic countermeasures.