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Japan pondering coronavirus group vaccinations due to storage issues: health minister

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura (Mainichi/Daiki Takikawa)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is considering vaccinating people in groups at medical institutions and public facilities when novel coronavirus vaccines become available, health minister Norihisa Tamura told a Nov. 13 House of Representatives panel session.

    Nationwide universal group vaccinations have not been carried out in Japan since the Immunization Act was revised in 1994, and some local governments do not have knowledge about or experience in vaccinating large numbers of people at once. The central government needs to work out a new framework for this type of vaccination project.

    Group vaccinations are being considered due to the characteristics of coronavirus vaccines currently under development. For example, Pfizer Inc.'s vaccine, which is currently ahead of the game in development, needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius. Some candidate vaccines come with several doses per vial, which will expire soon after being opened. Taking such characteristics into consideration, the only option available for vaccine distribution is to have many people get their shot at the same time and place. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare notified local governments in late October to start preparing for vaccine administrations with the possibility of group inoculations.

    In Japan, group vaccinations used to be very common. However, adverse vaccine reactions were widely publicized, and since the Immunization Act was revised, in principle individuals have to get vaccinations at their own will at medical institutions.

    Tamura said during the lower house's Health, Labor and Welfare Committee meeting that the state will absolutely not force people to gather to get vaccinated, and explained, "We are envisaging a situation where many people are brought together while ensuring thorough infection prevention measures to administer vaccines in an efficient manner."

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

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