Local governments in Japan prepare to give booster shots after six-month gap

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

While keeping the minimum interval before booster injections 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 only be allowed if clusters of infection emerged in medical facilities and other places.

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

The use of the shorter interval between booster injections “should certainly be extended,” Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters on Friday. The central government “actually should have made the decision much earlier,” Yoshimura added.

Yoshimura called for allowing elderly hospitalized people and residents of nursing homes to receive booster shots after a six-month interval.

Governor Aichi Hideaki Omura, at a press conference the same day, stressed the need to give early reminders to medical workers facing higher risk of infection, as well as to the elderly.

On that day, the Aichi Prefecture government made a written request to the central government to allow each local government to use the six-month interval after the preparations were completed.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike mentioned an analysis showing that the amount of antibodies could drop significantly seven months after a second dose of the vaccine was given.

Tokyo and Aichi aim to speed up the pace of vaccinations, in particular by setting up vaccination centers.

Meanwhile, Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai, president of the National Governors’ Association, expressed concern that progress on booster injections could differ between local governments, depending on their vaccine stocks.

Local government recall campaigns “may be constrained by national government vaccine supplies”, Kyoto Governor Takatoshi Nishiwaki said.

Some local government officials said it was virtually difficult to implement the six-month gap, citing heavy administrative workloads.

“Even if we are told (to give booster shots after) the six-month interval, we can hardly do it, given the associated administrative work,” Takaaki Yamazaki, mayor of Koto district in eastern Tokyo and head of the Tokyo district group. mayors, said Friday at a hastily called press conference.

“We cannot move unless clear vaccine supply schedules are presented,” Yamazaki said.

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