Japan shortens interval for COVID-19 booster shots

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Friday.

Medical workers and senior citizens will be offered COVID-19 booster shots six to seven months after their second shot as part of efforts to mitigate the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Under current rules, boosters are being offered to certain groups eight months after the second dose. The policy, which Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Friday, will shorten the interval for about 31 million people, including medical workers and senior citizens.

Booster shots will be offered after six months to medical workers, hospital inpatients, residents of elderly facilities, and daycare facility users and staff — comprising about 14.73 million people. All other senior citizens — comprising about 16.72 million — will be offered boosters after seven months from February.

Local governments were notified of the policy on Friday.

The government wants municipalities to make effective use of the about 8.9 million doses they have in stock. It will also deliver an additional 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to help expedite the booster campaign.

On Friday, Kishida indicated U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.’s molnupiravir oral coronavirus treatment will be made available to medical institutions by the end of this year if approved by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s expert panel, which is expected to make a decision on Dec. 24.

“We have already secured 1.6 million doses,” he said.

The prime minister also revealed that a basic agreement was reached on the supply of 2 million doses of a drug developed by Pfizer Inc. in a telephone conversation with the U.S. pharmaceutical giant’s Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla on Friday.

Kishida said the government is preparing to implement free virus testing nationwide for people who cannot be vaccinated due to health factors or other reasons. The government is aiming for the service to be launched by the end of this year and the tests will not require reservations.

The prime minister said he would “do his utmost to ensure that the measures do not strain the medical system.”