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Japan gov't mulling omicron vaccine rollout from Sept.

This electron microscope photo shows the coronavirus's omicron variant successfully isolated at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. (Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is considering making new COVID-19 vaccines targeting the omicron variant available as early as September, bringing forward the initial schedule of starting the inoculations in mid-October, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    The government is planning to prepare for the rollout after deliberating the matter at an expert panel meeting slated for mid-September and going through necessary approval procedures.

    U.S. pharmaceutical giants Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. have respectively applied with the Japanese health ministry for approval of their bivalent vaccines targeting the omicron's BA.1 subvariant in addition to the previous strains, and the government has these two vaccines in mind for the rollout.

    In Japan, BA.1 outbreaks have calmed down to give way to the now-mainstream BA.5, but those omicron-targeted vaccines are said to be more effective than the previous editions. The inoculations will be free, and the health ministry is envisaging all those who have received at least their second round of COVID-19 shots as subject to the new vaccines. The ministry is accordingly urging local governments to prepare for the upcoming rollout.

    The import of the new vaccines is expected to commence as early as September. However, it is projected that supplies will not be enough in the initial phase. If that's the case, there are possibilities that the inoculation sites will have both the existing vaccines and those against the omicron.

    In Britain, Moderna's omicron vaccine was approved in mid-August. Meanwhile, Pfizer has applied with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval of bivalent vaccines targeting the omicron's BA.4 and BA. 5 strains besides the preceding ones.

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

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