A panel of experts on Monday proposed that the Japanese government end the free rollout of COVID-19 vaccines administered as a special measure, citing concerns over a further deterioration of its fiscal health, already considered one of the worst among major economies.
The Finance Ministry, which convened a subcommittee meeting of the Fiscal System Council, has also said the COVID-19 vaccine inoculation program should be normalized, as people have started to live with the coronavirus as part of their everyday life and restrictions on social and business activities have been lifted.
The government has spent about 17 trillion yen ($115.55 billion) to aid medical services in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, with expenditures including the securing of hospital beds and facilitating the supply of vaccines free of charge.
In fiscal 2021 ending March this year, Japan, with a population of 125 million, has administered 257 million coronavirus shots, spending 2.3 trillion yen. Each vaccine shot costs around 9,600 yen.
During their discussions, the ministry said that as is the case with seasonal influenza and other infectious diseases, those who wish to be vaccinated should pay part of the costs.
It also said COVID-19 antigen testing kits that the government has purchased for distribution free of charge should now be supplied by the private sector.
Given that vaccine development efforts by Japanese companies have not borne fruit, despite backing by a government fund of around 500 billion yen, the ministry said the research and development capability of each firm should be "sufficiently reviewed."
Japan, the world's third-largest economy, has set itself the target of bringing the primary balance, or tax revenue minus expenses other than debt-servicing costs, into the black by fiscal 2025.
But hopes for fiscal restoration are diminishing, given recent price surges amid the Ukraine crisis, on top of ballooning social security costs including pensions and health care, stemming from the country's rapidly ageing population.