A health ministry panel has endorsed a plan for Japan to introduce COVID-19 vaccines that target the XBB.1 sublineage of the omicron variant for a fresh inoculation drive in the fall.

The vaccine subcommittee under the ministry on Friday decided to update the vaccines, pending applications from vaccine-makers and ministry approval, to prepare for another spike in infections possibly arriving in the winter.

The country currently offers a bivalent COVID-19 booster targeting the original coronavirus strain and BA.1 sublineage of the omicron variant, or one targeting the original strain and the BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages of omicron. The free vaccination program — currently only covering people age 65 or older, people with underlying conditions and medical and nursing care workers — is scheduled to run through the end of August.