New COVID-19 Vaccination Drive Begins in Japan, Targeting XBB.1.5 Variant

New COVID-19 Vaccination Drive Begins in Japan, Targeting XBB.1.5 Variant

A fresh COVID-19 inoculation drive is set to begin across Japan, offering free vaccines to everyone. The target of this vaccination drive is the XBB.1.5 variant, which is a spinoff of the XBB variant, itself a recombinant virus of two prior omicron strains.

The purpose of the fall-winter drive is to prevent severe disease caused by the rapidly evolving coronavirus. The omicron variant and its sublineages have shown the ability to escape immunity acquired through past infection or vaccination. Health ministry officials emphasize that the main goal of vaccination is to prevent severe disease rather than infection itself. A COVID-19 shot is reported to offer some protection against infection or sickness for two to three months after inoculation and can provide additional protection against severe symptoms for over a year. A booster shot matched to the circulating strain is recommended for extra protection.

Eligibility for the vaccine includes everyone aged 6 months and older. However, the government is actively promoting the shot to those who are 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions, as they are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms. Those who received a shot during the spring booster drive can get another if three months have passed since their last shot.

The government will use updated versions of vaccines designed to work against the XBB.1.5 variant. Pfizer and Moderna have received approvals for their mRNA vaccines, which are specifically designed for this subvariant.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have found that their XBB.1.5 vaccines increase neutralizing antibodies against omicron subvariants EG.5 and BA.2.86. The vaccine is expected to be effective against these newer variants, as XBB and its spinoffs are currently the predominant type of coronavirus in Japan and overseas.

The known side effects of the vaccine include fatigue, pain in the arm where the shot was given, headaches, fever, muscle, and joint pain. The government maintains that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks, despite two deaths that potentially could be related to vaccination.

After the current inoculation drive ends in March, the government plans to end free COVID-19 shots. This decision is based on the fact that omicron generally causes lighter symptoms compared to the delta variant, and many people already have a degree of immunity through vaccination or previous infection. From next year, COVID-19 shots will be available for a fee, most likely during the fall-winter season.


– [source article]

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