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Japan eyes rollout of free BA.5-tailored COVID-19 shots next week

This file photo shows syringes for vaccines. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The health ministry plans to begin the rollout of Pfizer Inc.'s coronavirus vaccine tailored to protect against the BA.5 subvariant next Thursday after a panel approved providing the shots free of charge, a person familiar with the matter said Friday.

    The ministry panel also gave the nod to offer free COVID-19 vaccinations for children between 6 months and 4 years old, with the ministry planning to begin inoculations on Oct. 24, the person said.

    The health ministry is urging the public to take the shots to stem a potential surge of infections during the year-end holidays and to ensure that, through widespread vaccination, it will not coincide with the seasonal flu.

    The vaccine for children aged 6 months to 4 years, also to be provided by Pfizer, is the first COVID-19 shot available in Japan for that age group. It targets the original strain discovered in Wuhan, China, in 2019.

    The bivalent vaccine is available next Thursday for people aged 12 and over who have received two previous shots. The panel will discuss the interval between vaccinations on Oct. 19. However, another person familiar with the matter has said that it may be shortened to three months from the current five months.

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