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As the delta variant continues to spread and as early data from overseas hints at a rise in breakthrough infections, the Japanese government has started preparing to administer booster shots in an effort to prolong the effectiveness of the jabs.

The government wants to start administering third doses to medical staff early next year, after completing second shots for all those who want to get vaccinated, informed sources said.

So far, vaccines by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. have made up the bulk of Japan’s vaccine rollout.

While two shots of the vaccines have been shown to be widely effective in preventing serious illness, studies suggest that protection may wane over time.

Already, many other countries are moving forward with their plans to administer booster shots.

Britain, Germany and France are slated to start giving third doses in September, while Israel began giving third shots this month. The United States said it will start booster inoculations in late September.

The Japanese government has faced criticism for the slow initial pace of its vaccine rollout, so it is “making early preparations” for booster shots, according to a government source.

The government has already signed a deal with Moderna for receiving an additional 50 million doses in 2022. Japan is also discussing a deal with Pfizer for another 120 million doses next year and is holding talks with Novavax Inc., another U.S. biopharmaceutical company.

People wait for consultations after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at Tokyo Dome on Monday. | REUTERS
People wait for consultations after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at Tokyo Dome on Monday. | REUTERS

Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the coronavirus vaccine rollout, told a parliamentary meeting on Thursday that the administration of booster shots in the United States will reportedly start with high-risk people eight months after their second shots.

“In Japan, eight months after February, when medical staff started receiving vaccinations, will be October,” Kono said.

But a source close to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the first priority is to make sure the general public has access to their initial two shots, adding that booster inoculations are not expected to take place until early next year. As of Wednesday, half of Japan’s population had received at least one dose.

A panel of the health ministry is expected to discuss details on when the booster inoculation program will start and who will be covered.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has called for restraint on booster shots by wealthy nations as many people around the globe, but particularly in poor nations, have yet to receive a single dose.

Experts fear that if the vaccine continues to be distributed unequally between between rich and poor nations, infections could spread further in poor nations and new variants could emerge as a result.

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