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Japan gov't to allow 6-mo. interval for COVID boosters amid omicron fears

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is set to allow the interval between the second and third COVID-19 vaccine shots to be shortened from at least eight months to six months at the discretion of municipal governments, amid the spread of the omicron variant across the world.

    The decision, made on Dec. 1, is aimed at accelerating efforts to prevent the new variant from spreading in Japan. The government will notify local bodies of the decision as early as this week.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference, "Based on factors including changes in infection status moving forward and vaccine availability, we will if needed once again look into the scope of vaccinations without waiting eight months (from the second shot)."

    A government insider explained, "Now that omicron cases have been confirmed (in Japan), it would be difficult to obtain public understanding for the current eight-month interval. We will make it possible to shorten the interval to six months at the discretion of local governments."

    It is expected that municipalities -- especially smaller ones that tend to have surpluses of vaccine stock supplied by the central government -- will be able to give the booster shots to residents after six months from their second jabs.

    The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare earlier decided to make the interval between second and third COVID-19 shots "at least eight months in principle," and to limit a six-month-interval exception to only users and employees of medical institutions hit by cluster infections, and nursing homes. However, after omicron infections were confirmed in Japan, calls are mounting from local governments, the Japan Medical Association, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and other entities for a six-month interval.

    (Japanese original by Shuhei Endo and Aoi Hanazawa, Political News Department)

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