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Influenza vaccines are expected to be supplied at a slower pace in Japan this season than a year earlier, due in part to a worldwide shortage of ingredients, health ministry officials have said.

Although Japan did not see a seasonal flu outbreak last year, some experts are concerned that novel coronavirus and flu infections may spread simultaneously this winter. They are calling on people to get vaccinated against influenza and implement thorough infection prevention measures.

According to the ministry, flu shots for around 51.3 million to 55.8 million people will be supplied in the country this season. The total amount of flu vaccine to be supplied this season is expected to be less than that last season, but roughly the same as in a usual year.

Approximately 14,000 people are estimated to have caught flu last season, compared with 10 million to 20 million in an average year and fewer than 0.2% of some 7,285,000 in the 2019 to 2020 season. The National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) has concluded that a flu outbreak did not occur in Japan last winter.

On the other hand, experts are finding it difficult to predict whether flu will sweep through the country this season.

In June, the Japanese Society for Vaccinology warned that the country's medical system could be overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic if there is an outbreak of influenza at the same time, especially advising older people, infants and expectant mothers to get vaccinated against flu.

"Simultaneous outbreaks of the novel coronavirus and flu did not come last year, although we had expected that to happen," NIID head Takaji Wakita said at a news conference last week.

"It's very difficult to predict the outbreak situation this season," he added.

"There is a possibility that influenza will spread this season as the number of people susceptible to flu is seen rising among various age groups following the absence of an outbreak last season," said Takashi Nakano, a professor at Kawasaki Medical School, calling on people to consider getting vaccinated against flu.

"Infectious diseases other than COVID-19 and flu also tend to spread in the winter," he said, urging people to continue taking infection control measures.

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