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Coronavirus

Japan considers offering free COVID-19 vaccines to all residents

Cost of program to be borne fully by central government

A researcher works at a laboratory on a candidate vaccine for COVID-19: Drugmakers around the world are working on such vaccines.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is considering offering free coronavirus vaccines nationwide to all residents who want it, Nikkei has learned.

Those at high risk of developing severe symptoms, notably the elderly and health care workers, will receive first priority for vaccination, which will later be expanded to others. The full cost of immunization will be paid for from the national budget to ensure smooth mass vaccination.

How the program will be conducted will be discussed through the government's panel on the pandemic, which brings together experts on infectious disease and economists.

When the novel influenza spread in Japan from 2009 to 2010, the central and local governments offered subsidized vaccines to those with low incomes. In principle, people paid out of pocket for the vaccine, which cost 3,600 yen ($34) for a single dose and 6,150 yen for two doses.

Offering free COVID-19 vaccines using reserve funds is now under consideration. The plan calls for the central government to bear the full cost, without requesting local authorities to pay.

Vaccines for the coronavirus are now under development. The Japanese government is negotiating with multiple pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer of the U.S. and U.K.-based AstraZeneca, asking drug companies to supply vaccines to Japan.

The government aims to secure enough vaccines to immunize all residents by the first half of 2021, with the Olympics scheduled to take place in Tokyo next summer.

Japan will not only create a framework for vaccination but also prepare relief measures for those who suffer side effects from the vaccine. It will set up a system that allows for compensation to be paid to participants in clinical trials. Such fees, which are normally paid by pharmaceutical companies, will be paid by the government.

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