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Free COVID vaccinations to continue from April in Japan

The Central Government Building No. 5, which houses the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare, is seen in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Japan's health ministry has decided to continue the free coronavirus vaccination program for all those eligible from April. The next round of additional vaccinations is being coordinated to be offered in the fall or winter this year.

    In Japan, the coronavirus vaccine is provided free based on the Immunization Act, but since the deadline for that practice will come at the end of March, an expert committee has been discussing how to deal with the situation from April onward. The panel will present its future policy at a committee meeting on Feb. 8. Based on its recommendations, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will officially decide on a new vaccination policy by March.

    The elderly in Japan are allowed to receive up to five vaccinations, and others over 12 years old can get as many as four jabs. As for who is eligible for the vaccinations, priority will continue to be given to the elderly and others at risk of developing serious symptoms. However, since there are some cases in which people become seriously ill even if they are not at such a risk, free vaccinations will continue for the time being, as in the past.

    The vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 years and infants aged 6 months to 4 years will also continue while taking into consideration the short period of time since the start of their shots.

    The "bivalent vaccine" containing ingredients derived from the omicron variant and previous strains has been offered since last September starting with those at high risk of severe cases, such as the elderly.

    Based on the knowledge that the effect in preventing serious cases of the coronavirus lasts at least six months after vaccination, and the effect in preventing death lasts at least 10 months after each shot, the health ministry has decided that it is appropriate to conduct the additional vaccinations in the fall or winter of this year, one year after the previous shot. However, for those who are at risk of serious symptoms, preparations will be made for inoculation earlier than that.

    (Japanese original by Takuya Murata, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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