Japanese govt mulls offering free COVID-19 vaccines to all residents

The Japanese government is considering offering COVID-19 vaccinations for free to all residents to limit the number of future fatalities and those developing severe symptoms and needing hospitalization in the country, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.

According to sources, owing to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 and its potential to render patients with extremely severe symptoms, the government aims to have as many people as possible to get vaccinated.

Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the government wants to secure enough COVID-19 vaccinations for all of the country’s citizens by the first half of 2021 as part of its new measures and protocols to combat the epidemic.

The vaccines will be purchased from reserve funds from the budget of the current fiscal year to March 2021, the government said.

At the meeting on new measures to combat the virus, it was also decided in a preemptive move that the testing capacity for COVID-19 would be significantly increased to tackle the possibility of an influenza epidemic hitting in winter alongside a possible second wave of COVID-19.

One of the focuses of the government’s expanded testing protocol would be on those working in the healthcare system, as rising infections have been noticed in healthcare providers, such as those working at nursing homes.

Along with healthcare workers, the elderly with underlying symptoms may also be prioritized for receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, depending on their municipalities, sources close to the matter said.

Meanwhile, those testing positive for the virus but not displaying symptoms or only showing mild symptoms will be asked to self-isolate at home or at designated facilities under the government’s revised guidelines, so that those with more severe symptoms can be given priority when it comes to allocating hospital beds and medical staff resources.

Japan’s health minister Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday the government has been discussing how to create a necessary system to manage the vaccines.

“We will draw a conclusion about the financial support depending on our discussions and the nature of the vaccines,” he added.

Kato said Tuesday that Japan will join an international framework, co-led by the World Health Organization, which aims to guarantee equitable global access to potential vaccines.

Numerous countries, some in collaboration with each other, have been rapidly trying to develop COVID-19 vaccine candidates, and some of those are now in late or final clinical trials, or, in some instances, waiting for emergency approval from the regulators.

A Japanese government’s panel of health experts, however, warned that “there is no guarantee that an ideal vaccine will be created in terms of both safety and effectiveness.”

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