A health ministry panel agreed on Monday to give women free vaccinations against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, the main cause of cervical cancer, if they missed the country’s free vaccination program.
The special “catch-up” measure is expected to start in the next fiscal year, from April, or later for women who passed the eligible ages without taking free HPV vaccines while the government suspended its active recommendation of the program.
The panel discussed the range of women who should be covered by the measure and how to deal with those who paid to receive inoculations after losing their eligibility for the program.
Many members took the view that the catch-up measure should cover women born between fiscal 1997 and fiscal 2005, who were eligible during the government’s suspension of the active recommendation of the vaccination program.
In April 2013, Japan introduced the free HPV vaccination program for girls in the sixth grade of elementary school to the first grade of high school.
In June that year, however, the country stopped actively recommending the vaccinations following a series of complaints of aches and other symptoms among recipients.
The rate of HPV vaccinations has been sluggish during the suspension due to a lack of inoculation notifications to individuals, falling as low as 0.3% in fiscal 2016, which ended in March 2017.
On Friday, an expert panel of the ministry decided to resume active recommendation.
The panel also agreed to enhance training at hospitals and strengthen consultation services to provide support for women suffering symptoms following vaccinations.
The ministry is expected to make a final decision on the resumption this week.
Some 3,300 recipients, or nine per 10,000 people, have reported suspected side effects after inoculations. A group of women has filed a lawsuit over symptoms against the government and drugmakers.
Last month, the health ministry panel agreed that there was no factor to prevent active promotion, as the safety and efficacy of HPV vaccines had been confirmed in Japan and abroad.
The World Health Organization in 2015 warned against the suspension of active HPV vaccination promotion, saying that young Japanese women were defenseless in the prevention of cervical cancer.
The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology had also been urging the government to resume the promotion of HPV vaccinations, saying that infection rates for those who received the vaccine dropped sharply in countries that introduced such vaccines at an early stage.
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