COVID Vaccinations May Become Annual Event in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

The health ministry will consider administering COVID-19 vaccinations once a year, in principle, as part of future inoculation efforts.

The next round of vaccinations is expected to be administered to all ages from fall to winter this year. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is also considering moving up the timing of these shots, as well as giving additional vaccinations to medical workers and the elderly, who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill.

An expert panel of the ministry compiled a draft vaccination policy on Wednesday. The ministry will make a final decision on its policy after a subcommittee meeting at a higher level within the ministry, possibly this month.

Research conducted overseas has found that COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of death from the virus for more than 10 months.

Based on such data, and the fact that infections spread in winter, the panel said, “It’s appropriate to administer shots in fall and winter every year for the time being.” It also said the ministry should provide COVID-19 vaccinations in the fall and winter of fiscal 2023, saying that “the primary objective is to reduce the number of severe cases.”

The panel further asked the ministry to decide on a vaccination policy for fiscal 2024 by the end of fiscal 2023, and suggested that the ministry should decide in early fiscal 2023 which vaccine to use in the next round of inoculations.

People can currently be vaccinated against the coronavirus for free, as it is handled as a special exemption under the Immunization Law. Although the exemption is scheduled to end at the end of March, the government plans to continue free vaccinations for the time being.