BY OSAMU TSUKIMORI, STAFF WRITER
Municipalities around Japan have begun preparing to inoculate millions of children age 12 to 17 after the health ministry signaled that the age restriction for COVID-19 booster shots would likely be lowered below 18 years old starting next month.
Vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have been authorized as a third dose for people age 18 and over, but the government plans to authorize only the former shot for the younger recipients, and only after at least six months pass after receiving the initial two doses. The health ministry has advised municipalities to set aside enough doses for those under 18, but given the popularity of Pfizer shots among adults, some cities fear a potential supply crunch. As a result, some of these cities have given up on expanding reservation slots for the Pfizer booster for people age 18 and above.
“There is a lot of confusion in the field right now about what to do about additional vaccinations for children,” Shinji Hirai, governor of Tottori Prefecture and president of the National Governors’ Association, said to health minister Shigeyuki Goto during an online meeting on Monday.
The government this month secured an additional 8 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and its partner BioNTech SE, with the youths to be added to the booster program to be covered by these and the original supply of shots. A total of 116.2 million Pfizer and Moderna Inc. doses are to be distributed by the end of April, which the government says will be more than enough to cover all eligible residents — a figure estimated to stand at around 100 million.
About 6.8 million — or 75.3% — of people age 12 to 19 have received the initial two doses so far, according to Cabinet Secretariat data. The government expanded the initial COVID-19 vaccination doses to 12- to 15-year-olds last June, and the booster timing for children between 12 and 17 now being considered by the health ministry would be the same as for people age 18 and above.
The government has asked the municipalities to go ahead and make all the necessary arrangements for the boosters. That way, if the shot is indeed authorized next month, then young adolescents could get the shot promptly and smoothly even without a vaccination ticket.
Despite Japan’s slow start to the booster shot campaign, which began in December, Cabinet Secretariat data shows that 31.9% of residents have received a booster so far, topping the ratio in the U.S. — about 29%, according to Our World in Data.