A Japanese health ministry panel on Thursday approved making third COVID-19 vaccine booster shots available to all people who have gone at least eight months since receiving their second dose, with the rollout for those other than high-risk groups expected to begin in the new year.

The decision comes as overseas studies show antibodies that protect against the disease decrease over time for all age groups, with the vaccines' effectiveness lasting around six months.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will make an official decision in November on whether it will allow vaccines to be mixed and matched for the third dose. It will also continue to provide opportunities for unvaccinated individuals to get their shots.

While many other countries are rolling out booster shots only for the elderly and those at high risk of developing serious symptoms, the health ministry said it expects the target group to be expanded in the future.

The ministry decided last month to start administering third doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with medical personnel and other at-risk groups expected to get their booster shots as early as December.

Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine, jointly developed with German partner BioNTech SE, and Moderna Inc.'s vaccine are currently available free of charge to people aged 12 and older in Japan.

AstraZeneca plc's vaccine is approved for use in the country but is recommended for those 40 and older.