Japan’s 4th round of COVID-19 vaccinations could start in May, 1 month ahead of schedule

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Vaccines manufactured by Pfizer Inc.

The fourth round of COVID-19 vaccinations could start as early as May, one month ahead of schedule, according to sources.

An expert subcommittee of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will hold discussions on shortening the interval between the third and fourth booster shots, which was originally set to a minimum of six months. The third round started in December.

The subcommittee agreed Thursday that the government should start preparing to administer the fourth round of shots, which will be met by the public purse under the temporary vaccination program.

At the subcommittee meeting, the health ministry proposed using vaccines manufactured by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. for the next rollout, basically maintaining an interval of six months or more between the third and fourth shots.

But the ministry said the interval would “be reexamined based on overseas moves,” citing examples of some countries — including France and Germany — which embarked on a fourth round of vaccinations just three to four months after the third round, targeting people at high risk of serious illness or infection.

The ministry stated that a fourth vaccination should be given to “everyone who has received a third shot.”

The subcommittee also agreed that the third round of booster shots for children aged between 12 and 17 would be covered by the temporary vaccination program and could begin as early as April.

Municipalities will recommend using Pfizer’s products and distribute vaccination coupons to all eligible children. A third vaccination is particularly recommended for children who have a high risk of serious illness, such as those with a preexisting condition.