A new COVID-19 vaccine considered effective against the Omicron variant will be available in Japan to all people who have completed at least two coronavirus inoculations from as early as mid-October, the government said Monday.
The bivalent vaccine, so named for its combination of ingredients deriving from existing COVID-19 shots and from the Omicron variant's BA.1 subtype, has been reported to provide some increase in neutralizing antibodies against the BA.5 subtype currently prevalent across the country.
The plan was approved by a health ministry panel at a time when Japan is experiencing a seventh wave of infections fueled by the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant, with its daily cases hitting an all-time high of about 250,000 last Wednesday.
While drugmakers are going ahead with development of vaccines based on the BA.5 subtype, it will require more time before supplies are available, leading the government to opt instead for the BA.1-derived shots.
The ministry also said it will include children aged 5 to 11 among those subject to nonbinding calls to actively consider vaccination from a public health perspective.
If the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare formally authorizes new COVID-19 vaccines under development by U.S. pharmaceutical giants Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., they could be imported to the country in September.
Pfizer said Monday it submitted an application with the ministry for approval of its vaccine designed to respond to the Omicron variant. Moderna is expected to do the same in the near future.
In Europe, applications for approval are already complete for the same bivalent vaccines Japan is considering using, and preparations for additional vaccinations from the fall onward are going ahead in each country.
Conversely, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended that drugmakers develop vaccines that include BA.5 subtype components.