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Editorial: Booster rollout plan should be moved up flexibly if necessary

  • December 6, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 2:55 p.m.
  • English Press

Japan has just rolled out the booster shot program for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, starting with health care workers.


Elderly people will start receiving booster shots early next year as the coverage of the program is expanded. The campaign should be accelerated.


As for third shots, the health ministry recently announced standards that recommend an eight-month wait after the second jab, in principle, but added that the period could be shortened to six months under special circumstances.


As an example of the special circumstances, the ministry cited the occurrence of a cluster of cases in hospitals and facilities for elderly people. It calls for seeking the ministry’s advice before deciding to administer third jabs earlier than eight months after the second shot.


Studies have indicated the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer or Moderna against symptomatic infections wanes after four or so months. From the viewpoint of fending off a new wave of infections, there is no doubt about the wisdom of offering third shots before eight months after the second dose.


Some local administrations are calling for administering earlier boosters than planned, especially for facilities for the aged. The national government should respond flexibly to such calls.


The ministry points out that many of the Western countries that were among the first to begin widespread vaccinations have adopted the eight-month time frame for boosters. But a growing number of Western nations are shortening the period.


The emergence of the new Omicron variant, which is feared by scientists to have a greater ability to bypass some of the protection given by vaccines, has provoked debate on effective responses. There seems to be a growing trend toward moving up the booster plan. Many Japanese medical experts are supporting the case for earlier booster shots.


The health ministry’s focus on the occurrence of a cluster in its criteria for giving boosters earlier than the standard eight-month interval is baffling. Hospitals and facilities for the elderly are generally vulnerable to the risk of clusters and tend to suffer serious effects from such an event.


It would make more sense to recommend that people in these facilities should receive third shots before eight months after their second doses of a vaccine. Why does the ministry not make this clearly sensible recommendation?


The central government has already presented to local administrations its plan for the distribution of booster shots to be used by the end of March next year. The plan is based on the proposed eight-month timeline. If it sticks to this principle to avoid having to change the plan, the government is acting on a misplaced priority.


The government’s job here is to secure shots in a way that allows it to distribute them ahead of schedule, if necessary, without having to worry about a short supply or confusion.


Even if boosters are given eight months after the second shots, that does not reduce the benefits and importance of third doses.


Local administrations need to make necessary preparations, without delay, for the booster program, including securing health care workers and locations, while providing related information to reassure the local communities.


There are also people who have not received a single shot for various reasons. These unvaccinated people should not be disregarded in the efforts to combat the spread of the virus.


The government has adopted a “mix and match” approach for boosters. People do not have to stick to the same type as their primary and second vaccine jabs and can choose whichever booster they would like. Some people may dither over which one they should receive.


It is also possible that one type will prove far popular than the others. It is vital for the government to provide the public with accessible information about the vaccines available based on accurate scientific information.


Japan depends on foreign sources for much of the information concerning the effectiveness, risks and other facts about vaccines crucial for its vaccination policy.


It needs to step up its efforts to establish a system that enables collecting sufficient vaccine-related data at home.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 5

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