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Editorial: Japan's parents need clear info to decide on vaccinating their children

Coronavirus vaccinations for children have been approved in Japan. Now, kids aged 5 to 11 can get the Pfizer Inc. vaccine, and inoculations are expected to begin from March or later.

    Whether children should get the shots will be left for their households to decide, considering its efficacy and the risks of adverse reactions, among other issues. Precisely because children are in the process of developing mentally and physically, they need greater consideration than adults do. The government must provide sufficient information for people to make their own judgments.

    The omicron variant's spread has brought a huge rise in infections among children, and an increasing number of schools and day cares are temporarily closing in response. Getting vaccinated is of great significance to children with pre-existing conditions that put them at greater risk of severe COVID-19.

    To vaccinate or not to vaccinate becomes a more difficult question when it comes to healthy children.

    The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has explained that the vaccines "are expected to have a certain level of preventative efficacy." There are reports that the proportion of children who have adverse responses to the vaccines is lower than among young adults. Those rare children who developed severe heart muscle inflammation, of which there have been cases in the U.S., reportedly recovered.

    But to what extent vaccinations should be encouraged is a contentious point even among experts. This is because many children who contract the virus have no or mild symptoms. The omicron variant also appears to have a lower risk of severe COVID-19 than previous strains. Should they be vaccinated if they live with older people? Could unexpected side effects emerge? There are likely to be households who struggle with the decision.

    Some countries are moving ahead with vaccinations for children in the same way they did for adults. They aim to suppress the virus's spread and maintain societal activity. Does Japan intend to employ the same strategy? The government must clearly state its goals for advancing vaccinations.

    Intensified peer pressure to get vaccinated and discrimination against unvaccinated children in their schools and communities must be prevented.

    It's also important to make preparations at the local level, to ensure that people who want the vaccines can get them safely.

    Children's vaccinations require the utmost care. Pediatricians, nurses and other medical professionals used to administering shots to kids must be involved in the rollout. If there are adverse reactions such as fevers, it is ideal that people's regular doctors care for them.

    The national and local governments must arrange a system to address families' anxieties and questions. We call for a framework which allows people to make vaccination choices with confidence.

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