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Local governments in Japan are preparing to give third doses of COVID-19 vaccines to residents as soon as six months after their second shots, amid growing fears about the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

While keeping the minimum interval before booster shots at eight months in principle, the government said in mid-November that it would allow local authorities to shorten the minimum interval to six months at their discretion.

Later in November, however, the national government said the six-month interval would be allowed only if infection clusters emerge at medical institutions and some other places.

But in the face of criticism that starting earlier booster shots after infection clusters are found would be too late, the national government is now considering expanding the use of the six-month interval.

The use of the shorter booster shot interval "should definitely be expanded," Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters Friday. The central government "should have in fact made the decision much earlier," Yoshimura added.

Yoshimura called for allowing such people as elderly inpatients and residents at nursing care facilities to receive booster shots after a six-month interval.

Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, at a news conference the same day, emphasized the need to give earlier booster shots to medical workers facing higher infection risks, as well as older people.

On the day, the Aichi Prefectural Government asked the central government in writing to allow each local government to use the six-month interval once it completes preparations.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has mentioned analysis showing that the amount of antibodies could significantly fall seven months after a second vaccine dose is administered.

Tokyo and Aichi are aiming to accelerate the pace of vaccinations, including by running vaccination centers.

Meanwhile, Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai, president of the National Governors' Association, has expressed concern that progress on booster shots could differ among local governments, depending on their vaccine stocks.

Local governments' booster shot campaigns "could be constrained by vaccine supplies" from the national government, Kyoto Gov. Takatoshi Nishiwaki has said.

Some local government officials said it is practically difficult to implement the six-month interval, citing heavy administrative workloads.

"Even if we're told (to give booster shots after) the six-month interval, we can hardly do so, given related administrative work," Takaaki Yamazaki, mayor of Koto Ward in eastern Tokyo and head of the group of Tokyo ward mayors, said at a hastily called news conference Friday.

"We can't move unless clear vaccine supply schedules are presented," Yamazaki said.

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