The government plans to offer vaccinations against the new coronavirus free of charge to all citizens in Japan, according to sources.
The government is set to shoulder all costs to secure by the end of June next year sufficient supplies of coronavirus vaccines that are currently being developed in Japan and abroad. It will spend ¥670 billion from its reserve funds under fiscal 2020 supplementary budgets to secure COVID-19 vaccines.
The policy of providing free coronavirus vaccinations will be unveiled at a meeting of a health ministry advisory panel as early next week, the sources said Wednesday.
With the envisaged free vaccinations, the government aims to encourage the public to get COVID-19 vaccinations promptly soon after the vaccines are developed.
The government also hopes to prepare for possible simultaneous outbreaks of coronavirus and seasonal influenza. On Thursday, this year's vaccinations against influenza began across the country.
With the United States and Britain currently leading the development of coronavirus vaccines, the Japanese government has signed basic agreements to get vaccine supplies from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc. and British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC.
At a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 8, the government decided to use reserve funds to secure the vaccines.
The government is now preparing systems necessary for providing COVID-19 vaccinations on the assumption that the vaccines may become available at the end of this year at the earliest, the sources said.
The government also plans to earmark additional funds in its draft budget for fiscal 2021, which starts in April next year, to secure more coronavirus vaccines. It will then consider whether to continue free vaccinations.
The government's subcommittee on coronavirus countermeasures has indicated a policy of giving first priority for coronavirus vaccinations to medical workers, elderly people and those with underlying conditions.
The health ministry panel will discuss the range of elderly and other people to be given vaccination priority, planning to compile a specific immunization program in autumn this year.
On top of funds to purchase COVID-19 vaccines, the government plans to shoulder costs to be spent by local governments to provide vaccinations to their residents, the sources said.
As for flu vaccines, some 31.78 million units, or up to 63.56 million doses, are expected to be supplied this year, the highest number in the past five years.
The health ministry is seeking to prioritize the vaccinations of elderly people aged 65 or older, who have higher risks of developing severe symptoms from infections, while urging others to get vaccinated on Oct. 26 or later.
Vaccine supplies are expected to reach 15 million to 20 million units in the first half of October, and are projected to hit the maximum amount in November, according to the ministry.
To accommodate vaccine takers within the number of available doses, the ministry is calling for priority to be given to those aged 65 or older, who are subject to regular vaccinations under the immunization act, and also to sufferers of cardiac or respiratory impairments between ages 60 and 64.
The ministry is also calling on medical workers, pregnant women and children between six months of age and second-grade to get vaccinated at an early stage from Oct 26.
According to the ministry, the number of reported influenza patients this season as of Sept. 20 stood at 11 nationwide, around 0.1 percent of that of a year earlier. Infection prevention steps taken as measures against the novel coronavirus, such as washing hands and wearing face masks, are seen to be behind the drop in flu cases.