Japan's health ministry on Tuesday approved the manufacture and sale of a coronavirus vaccine made by Daiichi Sankyo Co. that targets an Omicron subvariant, paving the way for the first domestically produced COVID-19 shots to be used across the country.

The vaccine, which will be sold under the name Daichirona and tailored for the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant, is expected to be supplied to local governments from early December and will be offered free of charge. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has agreed to purchase 1.4 million doses of the vaccine.

The newly approved vaccine utilizes messenger RNA technology akin to those produced by U.S. companies Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. and will be used as a booster for individuals aged 12 and older.

The Japanese drug maker's earlier version of COVID vaccine, which targeted the strains that spread during the initial stages of the pandemic, was approved in August but was not rolled out.

Since the spread of the novel coronavirus in early 2020, Japan has primarily relied on Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines, while the development of domestically produced vaccines has largely fallen behind U.S. and European countries.

Health minister Keizo Takemi said the Japanese government will continue to provide the necessary support to ensure the development and production of domestic vaccines in preparation for the next potential pandemic.

On the same day, the health ministry also approved the manufacture and marketing by Meiji Seika Pharma Co. of a new type of mRNA vaccine, in which the mRNA self-replicates inside the recipient's body to generate a longer-lasting immune response with a smaller dose than current vaccines.

The pharmaceutical subsidiary of Meiji Holdings Co. called the move "the world's first approved replicon vaccine applying self-amplifying mRNA technology." The technology was developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics Inc.

Meiji Seika Pharma's President Daikichiro Kobayashi told a press conference in Tokyo that the approval has "opened up the possibility for the practical use of next-generation vaccines" and that the company will work to ensure their stable supply.


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