A health ministry panel has approved a plan to end a temporary program offering free COVID-19 vaccinations at the end of fiscal 2023, which runs through next March.

From fiscal 2024, the country's vaccination program will provide a COVID-19 shot once a year between autumn and winter to people aged 65 or over who are at high risk of developing severe symptoms from the disease, the panel said Friday.

Vaccinations against COVID-19 have been designated as emergency inoculations under the county's immunization law to prevent the spread of the disease, and their costs will be covered by public funds until next March.

The health ministry is considering a shift to a routine inoculation program from fiscal 2024 for elderly people aged 65 or over to allow them to receive a COVID-19 shot, possibly paying part of their vaccination costs.

For people under 65, the ministry is likely to make COVID-19 vaccinations a voluntary inoculation program, requiring them to pay inoculation costs by themselves.

At the day's meeting, the panel said that there was no urgent need for getting COVID-19 vaccinations in Japan, reflecting a lower risk of developing severe symptoms from the currently dominant omicron variant and thanks to the widespread use of multiple therapeutic drugs.