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Japan's medical workers, older citizens to get COVID-19 vaccine priority with no charge

A woman with a mask on is seen. (Getty)

TOKYO -- Medical professionals, older citizens and others prioritized for novel coronavirus vaccinations in Japan will not be charged for the shots, the government has informally decided.

    The government is planning to cover the expenses of the new coronavirus vaccines, while municipalities will carry them out. The government will also consider introducing new legal measures to provide relief to people in the event that a vaccination triggers serious side effects.

    The government's coronavirus countermeasures subcommittee is set to meet by the end of the week to draw up an interim report on the new vaccination system.

    While a number of pharmaceutical companies are developing novel coronavirus vaccines across the world, the supply is expected to be limited during the early stages. In the interim report, the government will indicate a policy of giving first priority to medical professionals who come in direct contact with novel coronavirus patients, and second to people aged 65 or over and those with underlying diseases, who are at high risk of developing serious coronavirus symptoms.

    High priority people will be notified when vaccination opportunities become available, according to the plan. The government will finalize a decision on vaccinations for caregivers working at nursing homes for older people when the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines becomes clearer through clinical trials being conducted by pharmaceutical firms.

    When the government offered priority vaccinations amid the outbreak of a new type of influenza in 2009, people who received the vaccines were charged 6,150 yen for two shots in principle, except for low-income earners. Because the rate of fatality and that of developing serious conditions are relatively high among novel coronavirus patients, the government concluded that the social and economic impact would be immense if coronavirus infections spread more, and therefore plans to get as many people as possible vaccinated at an early date.

    In regard to the cost of the vaccinations, the government will not apply the Immunization Act, under which municipalities are required to shoulder the burden, but will instead tap reserve funds set aside for this fiscal year to cover necessary expenses for coronavirus vaccinations.

    In anticipation of possible lawsuits that could be filed over health damage due to adverse reactions to coronavirus vaccines, the government plans to submit to the next Diet session a bill to shoulder compensatory payments in lieu of pharmaceutical companies that produced those vaccines. Apart from this, the government will also look into introducing new legal measures to provide medical expenses and disability pensions in the event that vaccine recipients die or develop disabilities due to serious adverse reactions.

    (Japanese original by Ryosuke Abe and Ai Yokota, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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