The Japanese government is considering offering COVID-19 vaccinations for free to all residents to limit the number of deaths and people developing severe symptoms in the country, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.

The government aims to have as many people as possible receive the vaccine since the virus is characterized as being very contagious and having a high risk of causing severe symptoms to people infected with it, the sources said.

Last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government wants to secure vaccines for all citizens by the first half of 2021 as part of a set of measures against the virus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness.

Illustrative photo of a syringe in Buenos Aires, Argentina on August 4, 2020. (NurPhoto/Getty/Kyodo)  

Under a plan that is currently being discussed, the government is considering prioritizing medical workers, the elderly and people who have underlying illnesses. Municipalities will be in charge of offering the vaccinations, the sources said.

Vaccines against the virus have been under development in many countries, with some now in the clinical trial stage.

Since there are no data from the trials showing the effectiveness or the degree of side effects depending on the age or health conditions of those vaccinated, some government officials have been opposed to differentiating the financial burden among people.

The government is considering having the vaccine purchases be financed by reserve funds from the budget for the current fiscal year to March 2021.

Health minister Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday the government has been discussing how to create a necessary system to administer the vaccines.

"We will draw a conclusion about the financial support depending on our discussions and the nature of the vaccines," he added.

Kato said Tuesday that Japan will join an international framework, co-led by the World Health Organization, which aims to guarantee equitable global access to potential vaccines.

A government panel of health experts, however, has indicated the difficulty of developing an effective vaccine, saying, "There is no guarantee that an ideal vaccine will be created in terms of both safety and effectiveness."

The government is also expected to decide how to cover the cost of compensation that vaccine manufacturers may face if health issues occur before the shots will be offered to people.

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