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Editorial: Flexible response to omicron variant needed in rollout of vaccine booster shots

  • December 3, 2021
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The administration of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots has begun in Japan. It is hoped that the shots will help restore the protection provided by original vaccinations, which weakens over time.


People aged 18 and over who have already been vaccinated twice will be eligible to receive a booster shot. The rollout of the booster shots will begin with medical workers, then proceed to the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.


An issue at hand is how to handle the omicron variant of the coronavirus. It is possible that the variant may be more transmissible than conventional strains, and the World Health Organization is calling for caution.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has widened its target age for booster shots, and is strongly recommending that people receive the booster six months after their second vaccination.


Japan has set the timing for people’s third COVID-19 vaccine shot at eight months after the second one in principle. But in light of the spread of the omicron variant, the government is considering partially bringing the timing of booster shots forward, as local governments’ calls for such action are growing stronger.


However, there is no telling whether Japan will be able to procure enough vaccine supplies in time. The timing of imports is determined by contracts, and it is difficult for Japan, where the state of coronavirus infections is more subdued than in other countries, to receive an allocation in advance.


To make effective use of a limited supply of vaccines, the government should probably consider prioritizing inoculations at facilities for the elderly and other such locations where there are concerns over clusters of coronavirus infections breaking out.


It is important to ascertain the level of risk of the omicron variant in triggering severe cases of COVID-19 and how effective vaccines are in countering it, and to adopt a flexible response.


Booster shots will be handled by local governments. When the first vaccine shots were administered, a lack of supplies and inundation of the reservation system caused confusion. Officials should put such lessons to use. The government must inform the public about the outlook for supplies at an early stage. It is also hoped that local bodies will make every effort to secure medical personnel to administer vaccinations.


For the booster shots, the government plans to use vaccines produced by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. It is envisaged that people could receive a different type of vaccine from the shots they earlier received.


Some people no doubt feel uneasy about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines. And there are no small number of cases in which people developed fevers or suffered other side reactions after receiving their shots. A survey conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government found that only around half of the younger generation have indicated they intend to receive booster shots.


The government has a responsibility to carefully explain the purpose and necessity of booster inoculations. It should also provide accurate information concerning the omicron variant while paying attention to the situation overseas.

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