Improved COVID-19 jabs to start next week

REUTERS/Hannah Beier
Dr. Mayank Amin draws the Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) booster vaccine targeting BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub variants at Skippack Pharmacy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 8, 2022.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry decided Wednesday to administer improved novel coronavirus vaccines targeting the omicron variant from Tuesday.

The improved COVID-19 vaccines will be initially offered to people aged 60 or over for their fourth shots. In October and later, the scope of those eligible to receive the vaccines will be expanded to people aged 12 or over who have been given at least two shots.

The ministry will ask municipalities to finish administering the revamped vaccines to all people hoping to receive them by the end of this year. The use of the vaccines has been designated as an emergency inoculation program, under which vaccination costs are fully covered by public funds.

For those to be inoculated with the improved versions, at least five months must have passed since their last shots. But the ministry is considering shortening the period as early as late October given that the minimum interval is set at two to three months in Europe and the United States.

On Monday, the ministry approved two improved COVID-19 vaccines —one developed by Pfizer Inc. and the other by Moderna Inc. — under a special screening procedure. The bivalent vaccines target the novel coronavirus strain originating in Wuhan, China, and the BA.1 omicron subvariant, and are also said to be effective against the currently dominant BA.5 omicron subvariant.

On Tuesday, Pfizer applied for the ministry’s approval for another improved vaccine, which was developed on the basis of BA.5.

The government plans to begin delivering the improved vaccines across the country on Monday, aiming to distribute a total of some 33 million doses by the week starting Oct. 10. The number of people eligible to be given the improved vaccines is estimated to total about 68.5 million by the end of October, according to the health ministry.