Tokyo, Aug. 21 (Jiji Press)–The Japanese government has started preparing to administer booster vaccine shots against the novel coronavirus in an effort to maintain the effects of vaccines amid the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant of the virus.
The government wants to start administering third doses on a full scale to medical experts early next year, after all willing people get their second shots, informed sources said.
People in Japan have so far received COVID-19 vaccines mainly from U.S. pharmaceutical companies Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. Two shots of the vaccines are believed to be effective in preventing severe symptoms.
However, studies suggest that protection against infection may be waning as time passes after second injections at a time when the delta variant, first detected in India, is spreading fast.
Already, many Western countries are moving forward with their plans to administer booster shots.
Britain, Germany and France are slated to start the administration in September, while Israel began giving third shots this month. The United States said it will start booster inoculations in late September.
So far, the Japanese government has been criticized domestically for being slow in securing vaccines compared with other major economies, so one government source said it is “making early preparations” for booster shots.
In the light of the possibility of administering booster shots, the government has already signed a deal with Moderna for receiving an additional 50 million doses in 2022.
The government is also discussing with Pfizer to procure 120 million doses next year, while holding talks with Novavax Inc., another U.S. biopharmaceutical company, on vaccine supply.
Regulatory reform minister Taro Kono, who is also in charge of coronavirus vaccine rollout, told a parliamentary meeting on Thursday that the administration of booster shots in the United States will reportedly start with high-risk people eight months after their second shots.
“In Japan, eight months after February, when medical experts started receiving vaccinations, will be October,” Kono said.
But a source close to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the first priority is being given to fully vaccinating all willing people, adding that booster inoculation is not expected to take place until early next year.
A panel of the health ministry is expected to discuss in detail when the booster inoculation program will start and who will be covered.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has called for restraint on booster shots by wealthy nations as many people in poor nations have yet to receive a single dose.
There are fears that if the inequity in vaccine distribution between rich and poor nations is left unaddressed, infection could spread further in poor nations and new variants could emerge as a result.