• Kyodo

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People at high risk of flu complications, including the elderly and young children, should be prioritized for flu shots in the face of the double threat of coronavirus infections and influenza this winter, a government panel agreed Wednesday.

More people than usual are expected to seek flu vaccinations before the influenza season starts as it is difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of flu and COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Vaccinations are scheduled to start Oct. 1.

In principle, people aged 65 or older who hope to receive flu shots will be advised to do so from early October, while medical workers, people with pre-existing health conditions, pregnant women and young children will be able to get vaccinated from late October, according to the government policy.

The state will also ask prefectural governments to ready medical facilities to conduct tests for both influenza and coronavirus infections, the health ministry panel said.

The flu vaccine supply for this winter is expected to cover some 63 million people, the most since 2015 when the currently used "quadrivalent vaccine" to protect against four different flu viruses became available, according to the ministry.

The government has been asking vaccine-makers to increase supply but the quantity will be still short of covering the country's entire population of about 126 million.

About 10 million people are believed to catch influenza in an average season in Japan, but the figure last season was low at some 7 million.

"As the supply is limited, we will study how to deliver flu shots to people in need without creating confusion," health minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference Tuesday.

At the top of the priority list are those aged 65 or older whose flu shot expenses will be partially publicly funded and people aged 60 to 64 who have underlying cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, according to the ministry panel.

Medical workers, people who are not old but susceptible to developing serious flu-related complications due to chronic conditions, pregnant women and young children up to second graders should receive flu shots ahead of others, it said.

The policy is legally nonbinding, so the government will seek public understanding for its implementation.

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