Before the end of the year, Japan could start giving COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to people who are at least eight months removed from their second doses.
The health ministry on Friday discussed plans with experts on its vaccine subcommittee to provide booster shots as soon as the country has administered two doses to all willing recipients by the end of November.
With growing concerns over the ebbing impact of vaccine protection and what that might mean for any future waves of the virus, boosters could provide a solution, although whether or not they are needed remains the subject of debate among scientists. The World Health Organization has called for a “moratorium” on boosters until nations with low vaccination rates can inoculate more of their population.
Moderna Inc. announced Wednesday that a large-scale study showed the impact of its COVID-19 vaccine wanes over time. On Sept. 1, Moderna submitted an application to the United States Food and Drug Administration to seek authorization for COVID-19 booster shots.
Booster shot campaigns have already begun in other countries. Israel will be administering additional shots to individuals five months after they receive their second dose, while Americans could get a third dose eight months after their second if the country’s regulators give the plan the green light.
For Japan, officials said the next step is to decide the order, timing and operational structure with which booster shots will be administered domestically.
The country’s vaccine rollout began in February, with medical personnel and front-line workers being the first to be inoculated, followed by people 65 and older as well as individuals with pre-existing conditions.
In the subsequent weeks and months, local municipalities adopted scattered, localized approaches by prioritizing vaccinations for different sects of society: police officers, public transportation staff, fire department employees, civil servants, nursing home caretakers and so on.
The country’s rollout was initially the slowest among industrialized nations, and it was criticized accordingly. In recent months, however, the pace of inoculations has gradually accelerated.
As of Friday just over 52% of Japan’s population had received both doses, according to the health ministry.
While most research is still preliminary, some reports suggest that mixing vaccines from different manufacturers could improve vaccine effectiveness.
Research also suggests that the side effects of a third dose will most likely be milder than the first or second dose.
Earlier this month, the central government announced the framework of a plan to gradually lift restrictions on travel, dining and public events exclusively for those who have been vaccinated or in some cases those who have tested negative for COVID-19.
The plan, which will reportedly begin on an experimental basis as early as October before becoming fully operational in November, aims to restore public morale and incentivize inoculations.
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