This is our series on key coronavirus-related information. Click here to read other installments: #Coronavirus the facts. Find the latest information and answers from experts on everything COVID-19.
Limited to high-risk population
Japan's health ministry will start providing fourth doses of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccines from May 25, free of charge. For the time being, it will limit availability to people deemed at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if infected. This includes people who are:
- 60 or older
- 18 and older with certain underlying health problems
- 18 and older with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more
- 18 and older, and designated by their doctors as being at high risk of serious illness if infected
Applicants will only be entitled to a fourth shot if they have had their third at least five months prior.
The target population is based on data collected from overseas studies and other factors.
*Related article: Japan considers 4th doses of COVID-19 vaccines (April 9. 2022)
Underlying medical conditions
The ministry says people with the following underlying medical conditions are eligible for a fourth shot:
- Chronic respiratory organ diseases
- Chronic heart diseases such as high blood pressure
- Chronic kidney diseases
- Chronic liver diseases such as cirrhosis
- Diabetes that is being treated with insulin or oral medicines, or diabetes occurring with other diseases
- Blood diseases other than iron-deficiency anemia
- Diseases that decrease immune function such as cancer
- People undergoing steroid and other treatments that decrease immune function
- Neurological or neuromuscular disorders accompanied by immune disorders
- People whose bodily functions decline due to neurological or neuromuscular disorders and then who suffer from breathing or other problems.
- Chromosomal abnormality
- Severe motor and intellectual disabilities
- Sleep apnea syndrome
- Serious mental illness
Municipalities prepare for fourth dose
The ministry has already asked local authorities to arrange vaccination coupons and venues in anticipation of a rollout.
To get around difficulties in determining whether people have underlying medical conditions, the ministry has told municipalities they can send vaccination coupons to anyone with disability certificates, as well as people who were prioritized for first and second doses due to underlying conditions and people who declare they have such conditions.
The ministry says each municipality will be responsible for making the final decision on how to send out vaccination coupons. It encourages people to visit municipal websites or inquire at their municipal offices to check their eligibility.
Professor Matsumoto Tetsuya, an infectious disease expert at the International University of Health and Welfare, says that the age criteria make it easy for older people to know when they are eligible, but many people with underlying conditions may not know if they qualify. He also says underlying conditions do not always put a person at high risk of becoming severely ill if infected with the coronavirus, while those suffering from obesity, which is not a disease, are eligible.
Matsumoto recommends people, including those who think they might not be eligible, to check with their doctors or online and get a fourth shot if eligible.
This information is accurate as of May 23, 2022.