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Japan to make some exceptions to eight-month guideline for COVID-19 booster shots

The health ministry has released COVID-19 booster shot guidelines that allow for exceptions to its standard eight-month waiting period following an individual’s second dose.

According to the new rules announced on Friday, third jabs after a six-month interval can be given to residents and employees at elderly care facilities in the event of a cluster of infections. The same goes for patients and workers at cluster-hit medical facilities. In such cases, local municipalities need to report the situation to the health ministry before administering inoculations.

The release of the guidelines came after the government said earlier this month that shorter-interval booster shots can be offered in some exceptional cases, but leaders of local governments and municipalities, which actually manage vaccination programs for their residents, claimed that the rules were ambiguous.

“We will thoroughly notify (local governments and municipalities) to avoid confusion,” said health minister Shigeyuki Goto.

The health ministry is also expected to make exceptions to the eight-month rule for municipalities that have many leftover doses or are unable to run the vaccination program for a long period of time.

Japan will roll out booster shots starting in December for those who took the second shot at least eight months ago. Booster shots will first be given to front-line health workers and older people. Workplace inoculations are expected to begin around March.

The government has also encouraged local municipalities to use more Moderna Inc.’s shots for the third inoculation, although municipalities are asking for more doses of Pifzer Inc.’s vaccine.

Most of the first and second jabs administered by municipalities were made by Pifzer and local leaders claim residents who plan to get a booster shot are more likely to want to receive the same vaccine.

For the third shots, the government has decided that people can receive vaccines from either company, regardless of which jab they received for their first shots.

According to government data, more than 80% of the first and second inoculations were Pifzer. But when it comes to the booster shots scheduled to be administered from December to March next year, Pfizer shots account for about 24 million, or 60%, of the total while the rest are Moderna.

Vaccine minister Noriko Horiuchi said it is difficult to secure more Pifzer shots at this point.

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