TOKYO: Japan’s health ministry Wednesday approved US drug giant Pfizer Inc.’s latest COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the currently dominant BA.5 omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.
The ministry also approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged between 6 months and 4 years old.
The approvals under special screening procedures came immediately after a health ministry panel endorsed the vaccines at a meeting earlier in the day.
The vaccines will be delivered across Japan from this month.
Pfizer’s latest COVID-19 vaccine is a bivalent type containing ingredients derived from the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variants and from the original coronavirus strain first found in Wuhan, China. It is already in use in the United States.
Pfizer applied for regulatory approval of it in Japan in mid-September.
Japan on Sept. 20 started administering vaccines targeting the original strain and the BA.1 omicron variant.
The country plans to expand the range of people eligible to receive omicron-targeted vaccines as early as mid-October to those aged 12 or over who have received at least two shots. The government aims to complete the vaccinations by year-end for those hoping to receive them.
Until now, children aged 4 or younger were not allowed to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
In July, Pfizer applied for regulatory approval of its vaccine for children between 6 months and 4 years old. The vaccine was approved in the United States in June.
The ministry is set to start shipping Pfizer’s latest omicron-targeted vaccine Monday, aiming to deliver some 43 million doses by Nov. 7 to local governments across the country.
The vaccine for children under 5 will be supplied from Oct. 24. Some seven million doses will be distributed by the week of Nov. 28.