TOKYO: Vaccinations against the novel coronavirus for children aged 5 to 11 years old started in some municipalities in Japan on Saturday, as the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has led to a sharp increase in the number of infected children.
According to the health ministry, minors including young children accounted for 29.6 pct of all new COVID-19 infections across the country between Feb. 1 and 21, making up the largest age group.
The number of children covered by the nationwide vaccine rollout is around 7 to 8 million. At the discretion of local authorities, priority will be given to those with underlying diseases and others at high risk of serious illness from the coronavirus.
With vaccine doses for children being distributed from this week, vaccinations for them are expected to be in full swing in March or later.
Children will be administered with U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine twice at three-week intervals. Each dose for them contains one-third the amount of active ingredients for people aged 12 or older.
In a clinical trial conducted before the spread of the omicron variant, the vaccine was 90.7 pct effective in preventing the onset of the disease seven days after the second dose.
At a clinic in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward on Saturday, three children aged 8 to 11 received vaccine shots while their parents were watching. “I’m glad I got a shot to avoid myself spreading infections,” Konatsu Kozu, 11, said. Her father, Yoshiaki, 45, said, “I feel relieved.”
The health ministry has decided to make inoculations for children free of charge at public expense, including through a revision to a related ministry ordinance.
Meanwhile, parents are not obliged under the vaccination law for now to make efforts to have their children vaccinated. The ministry is continuing discussions on the issue.
To avoid creating peer pressure, the ministry does not recommend mass vaccinations at schools.