Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Dec. 17 said the government would accelerate COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for 31 million medical workers and senior citizens amid fears over the spread of the Omicron variant in the country.
Booster shot intervals for elderly people will be reduced to seven months, instead of eight months, from February onwards. As for healthcare workers and high-risk elderly people, Kishida said they would get their booster shots within six months after their second shot of the vaccine.
“Fears about the Omicron variant are spreading, so I’ve decided to move up the schedule to prioritize senior citizens, since the effectiveness of vaccination diminishes faster for them while they are also at higher risks of developing severe illness,” he said, reported Japan Times.
Kishida noted that he has spoken with the U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s CEO, Albert Bourla, to secure 2 million doses of Pfizer’s oral treatment for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.
Japan has contracted to receive 120 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine next year and had about 16 million in stock as of this month. The government has also approved the use of Moderna Inc’s vaccine for its booster program, which has so far covered about 0.1 percent of the population.
Although CCP virus cases have fallen dramatically since a deadly wave in August, there is growing concern about the Omicron variant, which has been found more than 30 times in Japan, mostly during airport screening and quarantine.
On Dec. 16, Japan confirmed its first domestically-acquired infection when a female staff member at a quarantine facility tested positive for Omicron. The Health Ministry noted that the patient in her 30s has no recent history of traveling overseas.
“It is strongly suspected that the infection took place within the facility. The woman is now in hospital, and her condition is stable,” an official from the health ministry told reporters.
The total number of Omicron cases in Japan stood at 82 as of Monday, with 14 new cases detected at the airport quarantines, according to state media NHK-World Japan.
A cluster of CCP virus cases linked to a U.S. military base in the southern island prefecture of Okinawa has reportedly grown to 180 cases on Monday, with one Japanese worker at Camp Hansen in Okinawa testing positive for the Omicron variant on Dec. 17.
Last month, Kishida announced that he was extending travel bans to all foreign tourists until early next year to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. The rules also required citizens returning from countries where the Omicron variant has been detected to quarantine in designated facilities.
Reuters contributed to this report.