Japan’s vaccine minister visits infectious diseases institute

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Vaccination minister Noriko Horiuchi on Thursday inspected the National Institute of Infectious Diseases as part of efforts to strengthen the country’s coronavirus vaccination program and cope with a possible rebound of infections.

Speaking to reporters after her first visit to the institute in Tokyo since assuming the post, Horiuchi stressed the importance of listening to the voices of people working in the field of virology to reflect their views in policymaking.

Vaccination minister Noriko Horiuchi visits the National Institute of Infectious Diseases on Thursday. | KYODO

The minister and Takaji Wakita, head of the institute, discussed ways to promote the country’s vaccination program, as the government is planning to start administering third doses in December to people who have gone at least eight months since receiving their second dose.

As for ongoing vaccinations, the country’s health ministry is considering advising men in their 20s and younger to receive the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc., rather than the one by Moderna Inc., due to rare cases of heart disease reported in Japan and abroad after receiving the Moderna shots.

Some countries including Sweden have decided to pause the use of the Moderna vaccine with young men, citing higher risks of heart disease, while recommending they receive the Pfizer vaccine.

When asked about the issue, Horiuchi stopped short of clarifying whether Japan’s government will follow suit.

So far, the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca PLC are currently available in Japan, all of which are administered in two doses. As of Wednesday, more than 65% of the country’s population had been fully vaccinated, according to government data.

While Japan has been seeing a steady decline in infections across the country as vaccination efforts progress, health experts are concerned about a possible infection rebound.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met the government’s top COVID-19 adviser Shigeru Omi for the first time since assuming the office earlier this month and exchanged views over the government’s future coronavirus response.

Omi told reporters after the meeting that the prime minister plans to strengthen the medical system, which had been strained due to a fifth wave of infections this summer, and enhance the virus testing system.

Earlier this week, Kishida said in a Lower House plenary session he will soon present the outline of his coronavirus response, which reflects on the shortage of hospital beds this summer.

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