New omicron booster set to arrive in September

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A care worker receives a vaccine dose on a bus in Utsunomiya on Wednesday.

The government plans to start importing a new COVID-19 vaccine that targets the omicron variant by September at the earliest, eying an October launch for the rollout of the new shot, it has been learned.

A new vaccine being developed by the U.S. pharmaceutical firms Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. is a so-called bivalent vaccine that contains components used in earlier shots and the BA.1 omicron subvariant.

The new vaccine is expected to be effective against the BA.5 omicron subvariant.

The companies are also developing a bivalent vaccine that contains the BA.5 subvariant, but the BA.1 booster is expected to be rolled out ahead of the BA.5 vaccine.

The vaccines currently being administered in Japan were designed to target earlier forms of the virus. Their effectiveness against the omicron variant is considered to be limited.

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry expert panel will meet Monday to discuss the introduction of the new vaccine.

The ministry has asked prefectures nationwide to prepare for the rollout of the new booster under the assumption that people who have received two shots of a vaccine may be eligible for the new shot.