Japan will prioritize administering coronavirus vaccines to the elderly over those with chronic diseases when they become available, as the former face a higher risk of contracting a severe form of the COVID-19 respiratory illness, the health ministry said Monday.

The government plans to distribute coupons for free vaccinations in order of priority when a vaccine is ready, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The policy was decided Monday at a ministry panel meeting involving experts.

According to the ministry, senior citizens are up to several dozen times more likely to develop serious complications from the novel coronavirus compared to healthy adults, while those suffering from heart or chronic lung illness, cerebrovascular disease or kidney failure face risks several times higher.

The government aims to secure coronavirus vaccines for all people in the first half of 2021.

The ministry will decide which chronic diseases should be covered by the planned preferential treatment and whether to set priority orders depending on age after consultations with experts.

While health care workers are also deemed to be high priority, the urgency of their need to receive vaccinations will be determined at a later date.

Those wishing for a vaccine will be inoculated for free at health care facilities by submitting special coupons to be distributed by local municipalities. They will also receive a certificate upon vaccination, according to the ministry.