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The Japanese government plans to include people with severe mental illnesses or disabilities in a priority list for COVID-19 vaccinations, health ministry officials said Thursday.

The decision was made because research shows that such people carry a higher risk of death from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by novel coronavirus infection. The plan was approved at Thursday’s Health Sciences Council expert committee meeting.

Some 2.1 million people, including in-patients and people who have mental disability or rehabilitation certificates, are expected to join the list.

Japan’s coronavirus vaccination program began on Feb. 17, with medical workers becoming the first group to be vaccinated.

Vaccinations are slated to start on April 12 for people aged 65 or older and later for people with underlying conditions, such as respiratory issues and heart disease.

The addition of people with severe mental illnesses and disabilities is expected to boost the total number of people with underlying conditions on the priority list to 10.3 million.

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