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The government is considering prioritizing flu shots for older people and those with pre-existing conditions amid concern that demand for vaccinations could rise due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, sources familiar with the matter said Sunday.

As it is difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of influenza and COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, more people than usual are expected to seek flu shots before the influenza season starts this winter.

The government believes it is important to set an order of priority to avoid confusion at medical facilities providing vaccinations, the sources said.

In addition to older people and those with health conditions, who are considered at higher risk for developing severe symptoms, medical workers, pregnant women and young children will also be given high priority, according to the sources.

The government is asking vaccine makers to increase supply compared with last season, when there were enough shots for 58 million people.

About 10 million people, or about 10 percent of Japan’s population, are believed to catch influenza in the average season. The figure for the last season, however, was low at some 7 million.

Setting out the order of priority ahead of the usual start of vaccinations in October is expected to help ensure those most in need receive flu shots, the sources said.

Having discussed the matter with medical and local governors’ associations, the central government is expected to finalize the flu vaccination prioritization policy on Wednesday after hearing opinions from experts at a health ministry panel, they said.

However, the policy would be legally nonbinding so the government will encourage its implementation on a voluntary basis.

At the top of the priority list are those aged 65 or older whose flu shot expenses will be funded publicly in part as well as those age 60 to 64 who have underlying cardiovascular and respiratory conditions and are considered susceptible to developing serious flu-related complications.

People prioritized may be advised to receive flu shots ahead of others, the sources said.

On Aug. 3, the Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases strongly recommended that people, especially those regarded as at higher risk, get flu shots.

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