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Japan eyes exempting young children from law requiring efforts to get COVID shots

The government building in the Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo that houses the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The health ministry is considering excluding COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11 from a legal provision in the Immunization Act that calls on people to be inoculated.

    Vaccinations against COVID-19 are subject to a provision of the Immunization Act, which states that people over 12 years old, excluding pregnant women, must make efforts to receive vaccines.

    The Pfizer vaccine is used for children between the ages of 5 and 11. The dose is one-third of the amount for people over 12 years old, and the vaccine is given twice, with a three-week interval between the shots. The Japanese government has classified the vaccine for this younger age group as a provisional one that can be received free of charge, and is preparing to start offering it in March.

    The efficacy and safety of the vaccine for ages 5 to 11 have been confirmed in clinical trials. However, since its effectiveness against the omicron strain in preventing the onset and severity of the disease has not been confirmed, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is considering not applying the Immunization Act's "duty to endeavor" to receive vaccinations to this age group.

    At a subcommittee meeting held in late January, members were divided over the Immunization Act's provision, and a decision on what action to take was postponed. The local governments will soon send vaccination coupons individually to children of the target age group and encourage them to get vaccinated.

    The proposal to exclude children aged 5 to 11 from the provision was set to be submitted to a Feb. 10 subcommittee on immunization and vaccination, and a decision will be made based on its discussions.

    (Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle & Medical News Department)

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