TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese health ministry panel said on Friday that people aged 65 or older should get priority for vaccination against COVID-19 as the government sets guidelines that will also prioritise frontline healthcare workers and those with medical conditions.
The panel also specified chronic heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and chronic kidney disease, among others, as underlying conditions that should determine priority for the vaccine.
The recommendations would include 36 million elderly people and 8.2 million people with medical conditions in the first group to receive vaccine shots.
Another government panel this week recommended that priority be given to frontline medical professionals and workers at elderly care facilities, while the elderly and those with underlying health conditions should also receive priority.
Japan, with a population of 126 million, has agreements to buy 290 million vaccine doses from Pfizer Inc, AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc, or enough for 145 million people.
Japan is currently facing a third wave of coronavirus infections, putting the nation’s medical system under heavy strain.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will hold a news conference from 6 p.m. (0900 GMT) on Friday about the government response to the pandemic.
Five national groups of doctors and other medical workers made an emergency request on Friday to Suga and Health Minister Norihisa Tamura, asking for strong anti-infection measures and support for the medical sector.
With hospitals equipped for COVID-19 patients filling up, other hospitals are being forced to accept them, said Tsuyoshi Masuda, president of the Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions, one of the groups.
“Naturally, they run much higher risk of in-house infection than those equipped to treat COVID-19 patients,” Masuda told a news conference.
“These small and medium-sized hospitals, which have been supporting medical services in their respective regions, are facing a crisis that is threatening their survival.”
Tokyo reported 884 coronavirus infections on Friday, near Thursday’s record 888.
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