Japan approves Pfizer vaccine for omicron variants BA.4, BA.5

10 月 6, 2022World News

Japan is preparing to send 43 million doses of the newest coronavirus vaccine to local governments. © Reuters
HANA SLEVIN OHAMA, Nikkei staff writer
October 5, 2022 23:54 JST

TOKYO — Japan granted fast-track approval on Wednesday for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine targeting the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants, with injections due to start later this month.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare issued the special approval for the application that Pfizer submitted on Sept. 13. A formal decision is expected after a government-appointed expert panel meets Friday.

Roughly 43 million doses will be distributed to localities by the second week of November, the health ministry said.

Moderna also submitted on Wednesday an application for a shot protecting against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, with Japan’s Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency set to start a review.

These new shots are termed bivalent vaccines because they combine components derived from the original strain of the coronavirus as well as the omicron variant. The BA.5 subvariant is currently dominant among new infections.

The health ministry previously granted fast-track approval of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the BA.1 omicron subvariant. It is too early to confirm whether the newly approved shot will actually outperform its predecessor against the BA.5 strain due to the lack of clinical testing data, according to the ministry.

There are concerns that some people will hold off receiving a shot in favor of waiting for the newest vaccine. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said that any omicron vaccine is shown to be more effective in preventing serious COVID-19 symptoms than doses for earlier strains.

“We hope that people get vaccinated in a timely fashion with the omicron vaccines that are available” at the time, Kato said.

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