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UPDATE 1-Japan swells booster arsenal with 18 mln more doses of Moderna vaccine

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By Rocky Swift

TOKYO, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Japan has agreed to buy a further 18 million doses of Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccine, the health ministry said on Friday, as it looks to speed up a booster programme that has covered just 0.3% of the population so far.

As concerns grow about the increasing spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida unveiled a plan last week to speed up booster doses for about 31 million healthcare workers and at-risk elderly people.

The purchase in the first quarter of 2022 will take to 93 million the total of Moderna doses available next year, the ministry said in a statement.

The Moderna shots are to be imported by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co, which has also contracted to sell 150 million doses of the Novavax Inc vaccine to the government.

Japan is also set to receive 120 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, used for the majority of its inoculations until now.

After a relatively late start, Japan has fully inoculated almost 80% of its population of 126 million, for the highest such rate among Group of Seven economies, but just 0.3% have received a third dose as a booster.

(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)