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The health ministry said Friday that people aged 65 or older will be given second priority to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus after medical and other workers who have frequent contact with infected people.

Third priority will be given to people with 14 types of underlying health conditions including chronic respiratory diseases, cardiac diseases, diabetes, obesity and cancer.

The ministry proposed the vaccination policy at a working group meeting of the Health Sciences Council. The plan was largely approved.

The ministry plans to decide whether to give regulatory approval to U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine by February next year.

According to a vaccination schedule the ministry has shown to local governments, first priority for vaccination will be given to medical workers, ambulance crews and public health center officials, totaling about four million people.

Once Pfizer’s vaccine is approved, Japan will be ready by the end of March to vaccinate such workers.

Vaccinations will start as early as late February for about 10,000 medical workers who wish to get vaccinated on an antecedent basis so that the ministry can confirm whether their health condition is affected.

An estimated 36 million people aged 65 or older, who are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, will have second priority to get the shot. Vaccinations for them will start in late March or early April.

Third on the vaccination priority list will be people under the age of 65 with underlying conditions, who will be vaccinated in April or later. The obese people to be covered by the program will be those with a body mass index of 30 or higher.

People aged 20 to 64 with underlying conditions are estimated to total some 8.2 million people.

Vaccine-takers will not need to obtain disease certificates from medical institutions. Instead, they will be asked to report voluntarily in questionnaires.

Some 2 million workers at elderly care facilities will also be given third priority.

Pregnant women will not be given vaccination priority due to insufficient knowledge about vaccine safety and effectiveness for them.

If sufficient vaccine supplies are available, the ministry will consider vaccinating about 7.5 million people aged 60 to 64 without underlying conditions around the same time as those with underlying conditions.

Including them, the total number of people to be given vaccination priority will come close to 58 million.

The government has reached broad agreement with Pfizer to get COVID-19 vaccines for 60 million people by the end of June next year.

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