Schedule for expedited booster campaign yet to be confirmed

The Yomiuri Shimbun

As a schedule for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine doses for booster campaigns is yet to be confirmed, questions remain regarding how significantly the government will be able to bring forward the booster rollout following Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s announcement Tuesday.

“If the infection spreads to the elderly, a higher percentage of people could become seriously ill,” Kishida said Tuesday during an online meeting with prefectural governors. “I strongly urge you to increase the pace of booster vaccinations.”

The government has already decided to shorten the interval between the second and third vaccinations by one to two months for about 31 million people including healthcare workers and the elderly.

January and February are expected to be the peak months for the booster rollout.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which is in charge of distributing vaccine doses to local governments, had expected boosters for people other than healthcare workers and elderly people to start in early May, but the schedule has been brought forward at the prime minister’s request, the ministry said.

Eighteen million Moderna doses that have been secured for the purpose are scheduled to be delivered from January to March, but a total of approximately 40 million doses are needed.

If high demand for booster jabs causes problems for local governments, the central government’s coordination abilities will be called into question.

Jabs for children under 12

Kishida said he wants the vaccination campaign to be started as soon as possible for children under 12 years old, for whom a vaccine is yet to be approved in Japan.

“After necessary procedures have been completed, those who want to be vaccinated will be offered jabs at the earliest possible timing,” he said.

The health ministry sent a written notice Tuesday urging local governments to make preparations so that the vaccination campaign for children under 12 can be rolled out smoothly.

U.S. pharmaceutical firm Pfizer Inc. submitted an application to the ministry in November for approval of its vaccine for children aged 5-11.

The government is preparing to start vaccinating children in the age group from as early as March.