Japan will roll out vaccines against the Omicron coronavirus variant from next week and provide them free of charge, after a health ministry panel approved their classification as special temporary inoculations on Wednesday.
People aged 60 and older and medical workers will be eligible for the shots tailored to the coronavirus BA.1 subvariant from Tuesday, the ministry said, as Japan ramps up efforts on additional inoculation against the BA.5 subvariant that has fueled its seventh wave of COVID-19 infections.
From mid-October, the vaccines are expected to be made available to all residents aged 12 and over who have been vaccinated two or more times previously.
By that time, a total of 33 million vaccine doses will have been delivered to municipal governments, with around 68.5 million people expected to be eligible for the additional vaccination between this month and October, the government said.
The government plans to provide shots to all who want them by the end of 2022, ahead of the highly-infectious year-end and New Year period, and it is working to create a system that can administer over 1 million vaccinations a day between October and November.
The boosters, which are made by U.S. pharmaceutical firms Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. and tailored to the BA.1 subvariant, were approved for production and sale in Japan by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on Monday.
According to the ministry, the boosters are expected to be more effective at suppressing serious COVID-19 symptoms than previous vaccines adapted to the original coronavirus strain, and they are likely to be potent against future strains that may emerge.
The use of vaccines adapted to the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants is also being considered, the ministry said.
Pfizer on Tuesday submitted an application for its bivalent vaccines that work against the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, as well as the original strain of the coronavirus, while a Moderna application is also being processed.