• Kyodo

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Japan has seen a sharp increase in the proportion of deaths due to COVID-19 that have occurred among people age 59 or under amid the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic together with the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, the health ministry said Tuesday.

Through the fifth wave of the pandemic, from mid-July to early September, those age 59 or under accounted for 20.6% of a total of 860 COVID-19 deaths, with the rate jumping more than fivefold from the 3.8% figure reported before early February, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

A total of 29 people age 39 or under died due to COVID-19 in the fifth wave, accounting for nearly half of the cumulative total of 63 fatalities in the same age group since the start of the pandemic, the ministry said.

While over 50% of the nation’s population of 125 million has now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the inoculation rollout has yet to reach many in younger generations despite surging infections driven by the delta variant of the virus.

Japan launched its inoculation program in February, initially for health care workers, expanding it to people age 65 and above in April and later to the rest of the public.

“The reason why severe symptoms and deaths among people in their 40s and 50s have become relatively prominent is that the vaccination (of older people) has progressed,” said Kazuhiro Tateda, a virology professor at Toho University.

Before the launch of the vaccination program, 96.2% of the 5,295 cumulative deaths reported by early February were COVID-19 patients age 60 or above. By age group, those in their 80s accounted for 40.8% of the total fatalities.

But in the period between mid-July and early September, the proportion of deaths that occurred among those age 60 or above had fallen to 79.4%.

According to an estimate by the ministry, the number of COVID-19 deaths in Japan among people age 65 and over in July and August was been reduced by about 8,400 thanks to vaccination.

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