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Japan gov't reveals plan for COVID-19 vaccines with order of priority groups

Health minister Norihisa Tamura is seen speaking during a coronavirus countermeasures subcommittee meeting on Dec. 23, 2020, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government's coronavirus countermeasures subcommittee presented a plan on Dec. 23 regarding priority groups for COVID-19 vaccines, and how they will be carried out.

    The subcommittee, headed by chairman Shigeru Omi, proposed that health care workers and others who frequently come into contact with infected individuals be vaccinated first. The plan outlined that the elderly should be the next group to be administered vaccinations, followed by patients with underlying conditions, as well as staff at care facilities for the elderly.

    Under the proposed framework, people aged 65 years or older are considered elderly, and those with underlying conditions include chronic respiratory illness, cardiac disease, kidney disease, cancer, as well as people with a body mass index level of at least 30 who receive regular treatment at or are admitted to hospitals. The framework will be finalized by the end of January next year.

    Pfizer Inc., a major U.S. drug firm, applied on Dec. 18 to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare for approval of the vaccine it developed. The health ministry is set to determine whether it will authorize the vaccine by February 2021. Considering these developments, the subcommittee presented to local governments nationwide a schedule concerning arrangements for conducting vaccinations.

    According to the schedule, a system will be secured for priority vaccinations to begin in March next year for the top priority group of some 3 million people, including health care professionals, rescue workers and public health center employees, who frequently come into contact with the infected. Prior to this, preparations will be made so that some 10,000 health care workers will be able to be vaccinated in advance between late February and early March, in order to examine whether there are changes to health conditions following the vaccinations.

    A structure will be set up to allow priority vaccinations of elderly individuals aged 65 or older, whose numbers are estimated to be around 30 million to 40 million people, to begin between late March and early April. Vaccinations for individuals with underlying conditions will be carried out in or after April, while checking on the progress of inoculations for the elderly.

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

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