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Japan will prioritize administering coronavirus vaccines to older people over those with chronic diseases when they become available, as the former face a higher risk of contracting a severe form of the COVID-19 respiratory illness, according to the health ministry.

The government plans to distribute coupons for free vaccinations in order of priority when a vaccine is ready, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said. The policy was decided Monday at a ministry panel meeting involving experts.

According to the ministry, older people are up to several dozen times more likely to develop serious complications from the novel coronavirus compared to healthy adults, while those suffering from heart or chronic lung illness, cerebrovascular disease or kidney failure face risks several times higher.

The government aims to secure coronavirus vaccines for all people in the first half of 2021.

The ministry will decide which chronic diseases should be covered by the planned preferential treatment and whether to establish priority based on age after consulting with experts.

While health care workers are also deemed to be high priority, the urgency of their need to receive vaccinations will be determined at a later date.

Those wishing for a vaccine will be inoculated for free at health care facilities by submitting special coupons to be distributed by local municipalities. They will also receive a certificate upon vaccination, according to the ministry.

Overnight, U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. said its experimental vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 during a late-stage clinical study, raising expectations of a breakthrough in the global fight against the pandemic.

Pfizer is expected to apply for emergency use authorization for the potential vaccine in the United States as soon as this month, after collecting further safety data. The company has an agreement with the Japanese government to supply 120 million vaccine doses, which will be enough for 60 million people or roughly half the population.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE are the first among U.S. and European drugmakers to prove the effectiveness of their vaccine against the disease caused by the novel coronavirus in final-stage clinical trials.

No serious safety concerns have been observed. As the study is ongoing, the final vaccine efficacy may vary from the current figure, according to Pfizer.

Japan’s government has also already reached an agreement with British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC to receive 120 million doses of its vaccine.

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. also plans to supply 50 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by U.S. drugmaker Moderna Inc. in Japan from the first half of next year.

The Japanese drugmaker said it would provide the vaccine based on a three-way agreement with Moderna and the health ministry once the vaccine has been approved.

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