Tokyo: Japan started administering improved COVID-19 vaccines targeting the omicron COVID-19 variant in some parts of the country Tuesday.
The health ministry initially focuses on people aged 60 or over for their fourth COVID-19 vaccine shots, planning to expand the scope to those aged 12 or over who have received at least two shots in mid-October.
While this summer’s seventh wave of infections has passed its peak, there are concerns over a resurgence in cases and a possible simultaneous outbreak of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza in winter.
The government plans to administer the improved vaccines at a pace of over one million shots per day, aiming to provide them to all people hoping to receive them by the end of the year.
“We’ll accelerate vaccinations,” health minister Katsunobu Kato told a press conference.
The improved vaccines have two types–one developed by Pfizer Inc. and the other by Moderna Inc.–both of which were approved in the country on Sept. 12.
Both are bivalent vaccines targeting the strain originating in Wuhan, China, and the BA.1 omicron subvariant.
They are also effective against the currently dominant BA.5 omicron subvariant.
Eight people received Pfizer’s improved vaccine in the first hour after inoculations started Tuesday morning at a mass vaccination venue in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.
One of them, a 76-year-old resident of the ward, said, “I think the shot will help prevent me from getting infected to some extent.
On Sept. 13, Pfizer also applied for the health ministry’s approval for another modified vaccine, which is developed on the basis of BA.5.
The ministry called on people to receive COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they become available without waiting for a rollout of the latest version of vaccines.
The ministry is considering shortening the minimum interval period for the improved vaccines from the current five months as the period is set at two to three months in the United States and Europe.