Japan may begin inoculating under-12s in Feb.

Japan's health ministry says its COVID-19 vaccination program may be expanded to include children aged between 5 and 11, with inoculations possibly starting by next February at the earliest.

That depends on whether vaccinations for that age group are authorized by the government.

On Wednesday, the ministry notified municipalities nationwide to begin preparations to vaccinate the age group.

It said medical institutions involved in the program should fully explain vaccine effectiveness and safety to children and their parents or guardians, and obtain their consent.

Such institutions are also required to provide proper initial treatment if anyone being inoculated develops side effects.

A ministry panel is now debating whether to allow children aged between 5 and 11 to be inoculated.

Last week, US pharmaceutical company Pfizer applied for the use of its vaccine for children in the age group. Pfizer developed it jointly with German partner BioNTech.

Currently, Japan approves the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and another by US drug maker Moderna for people aged 12 or older. The use of a vaccine developed by British firm AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford is limited to people aged 18 or older.