Free COVID-19 vaccines planned for all Japanese; could prompt economic recovery by 2022

September 8, 2020

The Japanese government is considering offering COVID-19 vaccinations for free to all citizens, as part of a set of measures against the virus. The government plans to have as many people as possible receive the vaccine since many are at high risk of developing severe symptoms if infected – medical workers, the elderly and people who have underlying illnesses will be the priority.

Some government officials, however, have been opposed to the plan as there has reportedly been no/insufficient data on the effectiveness of certain vaccines or the degree of side effects depending on the age or health conditions of those vaccinated.

Health minister Katsunobu Kato has since mentioned that the government is discussing how to create a necessary system to administer the vaccines. “We will draw a conclusion about the financial support depending on our discussions and the nature of the vaccines.”

Kato said that Japan will join an international framework, co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), which aims to guarantee equitable global access to potential vaccines. The government is considering having purchases for an effective vaccine be financed by reserve funds from the budget of the current fiscal year to March 2021. It is also expected to decide how to cover compensation that vaccine manufacturers may face should health issues occur before vaccination.

Meanwhile, a prominent economist Professor Takatoshi Ito said, “Japan’s economy could regain all the ground it lost during the pandemic much faster than many analysts expect if a vaccine becomes available.”

One of the more bullish economic forecasters, Ito notes that rebounds in various data signal Japan is already bouncing back from the pandemic’s effects, including promising responses from the Abe administration and the central bank. Still, he urged the government to go further by spending reserve funds totaling about JP¥10 trillion (US$94 billion) on domestic vaccine development so Japan isn’t reliant on overseas sources.

“The second quarter numbers were shocking, but compared to the financial crisis, the pandemic’s effects may be sharper, but shorter in timeframe,” he said. “We could see a fast recovery – it relies on having a vaccine, but we could be back where we were before 2022.”


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