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The government is expected to prioritize medical workers and older adults for vaccination against COVID-19, as work to develop vaccines for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus shifts into full gear.

The government will begin as early as this week to draw up a draft plan for vaccine prioritization, sources said. A recently created committee on coronavirus response measures, comprising mainly experts, will hold discussions based on the draft and compile a proposal by this fall.

Research and development for COVID-19 vaccines has been accelerating around the world, with the first clinical trial in Japan launched late last month. While it is unclear when vaccines will be available for practical use, the government hopes to begin vaccination as early as the first half of next year, according to the sources.

The government's guidelines for prioritizing vaccines for the novel influenza, drawn up in 2013, call for the vaccines to be given to medical workers first, civil servants handling infectious disease response next and then workers providing basic infrastructure such as electricity, gas and public transport, as well as those working at banks and nursing care facilities.

For the novel coronavirus, the government sees the need to create a different plan as the new virus is not regarded as big a threat to maintaining the functions of society as the novel influenza, which is highly toxic, according to the sources.

The new government plan is expected to focus primarily on making sure that sufficient medical services remain available.

In addition to medical workers and older adults, who have a higher potential for suffering severe symptoms if infected with the novel coronavirus, those with underlying conditions are expected to be given priority for vaccinations, the sources said.

The government plans to expedite the holding of coronavirus response committee meetings so that its vaccine prioritization proposal will be compiled as early as August to enable local governments to submit relevant funding plans to regional assembly sessions in autumn.

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