TOKYO, Oct 27 (Reuters): Japan's cabinet approved a plan on Tuesday to use public funds to provide Covid-19 (coronavirus) vaccines to the public for free.
The plan also calls for the government to bear the cost of any health damage caused by a vaccine, according to a document posted on the health ministry's website.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to provide enough vaccines for the coronavirus for the public by mid-2021.
Japan has struck deals for hundreds of millions of doses from companies including AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer Inc.
The Japan Times reported that the bill to amend the current vaccination law is in line with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s pledge to secure novel coronavirus vaccines for everyone in the country in the first half of next year.
His government is aiming for its enactment during the current Diet session, set to run through Dec 5.
To that end, the government has earmarked a budget of 671.4 billion yen.
It has agreed with British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC and US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. to receive 120 million doses of vaccine from each company when successfully developed, and is negotiating with US firm Moderna Inc for 40 million or more additional doses.
Once the government provides vaccines free of charge, residents will be strongly advised to get vaccinated.
The government may choose to offer vaccines with limited effectiveness and let people decide whether they want to receive them.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 10 developers have entered the final stage of clinical trials for their vaccine candidates.
Serious side effects were reported in some of the trials, causing studies to be temporarily halted. A WHO official recently said a vaccine for COVID-19 may not be available before the end of 2021.
The government also endorsed a separate bill enabling it to quarantine those testing positive for the virus beyond February, as a one-off measure introduced in the wake of the pandemic is only effective for a year.
In February, the government decided to hospitalize people who had tested positive for the virus and have those who were suspected to have been infected remain at designated facilities for a certain period.
There have been over 98,000 confirmed cases of infection with the Covid-19 virus in Japan, including about 700 aboard a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February, with more than 1,700 deaths attributed to the virus.
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