Japan opens state-run mass COVID vaccination centers in Tokyo, Osaka
TOKYO. KAZINFORM - Japan opened state-run mass coronavirus vaccination centers on Monday in Tokyo and Osaka in a bid to accelerate an inoculation program that has lagged far behind other developed countries with just two months remaining before staging the Olympics, Kyodo reports.
The centers, staffed by Self-Defense Forces doctors and nurses, will operate for three months from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. including weekends and national holidays. They will use the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. of the United States, which was approved by the government on Friday.
Japan hopes the venues, aiming to inoculate up to 10,000 people a day in Tokyo and 5,000 in Osaka, will help meet its target to complete vaccinations by the end of July of people aged 65 or older, along with those turning 65 in the current fiscal year.
Elderly people living in Tokyo, where the Olympics are set to begin July 23, and the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa as well as in Osaka and nearby Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures are eligible for inoculations at the state-run centers, provided they have not already received a vaccine shot.
But to avoid the reservation system becoming overwhelmed, the first week of vaccinations at the centers is restricted to residents of Tokyo's 23 wards and the city of Osaka.
At a government building in the Otemachi business district in Tokyo, 30 to 40 elderly people began gathering from around 7:30 a.m. for vaccinations.
«It did not hurt and was over quickly,» said a 66-year-old woman from Suginami Ward in Tokyo. She said she decided to get a shot at the mass venue because she did not want to wait until her initially-reserved first shot scheduled for late June.
The slots -- 49,000 at the Tokyo site and 24,500 at the Osaka venue -- were quickly filled after the Defense Ministry started accepting reservations on May 17 on its website and via the Line messaging app.
From May 31, slots for one week through June 6 will be available for online reservation for the elderly living in the rest of Tokyo and Osaka prefectures.
«The government will continue to make all-out efforts so that as many people as possible can be inoculated as quickly as possible,» Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference, while urging people to avoid double-booking.
Some local governments separately plan to set up their own large vaccination sites for elderly people. The prefectures of Aichi, Gunma and Miyagi opened their venues Monday, aiming to inoculate each day up to 3,000 people, 1,000 and 2,100, respectively.
Baseball stadiums are also being floated as potential venues. Yomiuri Giants owner Toshikazu Yamaguchi on Sunday briefed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on plans to use Tokyo Dome from August, while Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura told a press conference on Monday he may take up an offer to utilize Vantelin Dome Nagoya.
Japan's vaccination program started in February with health care workers and later expanded to the elderly, the latter group totaling about 36 million people. But only around 4 percent of the country's population of 126 million has received at least one dose.
The inoculations have been conducted by local governments using the vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE.
Some SDF doctors and nurses as well as private nurses who run the vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka became the first recipients of Moderna shots in Japan on Sunday, the Defense Ministry said.
Even if the two state-run venues operate at full capacity for the scheduled three months, only 900,000 in Tokyo and 450,000 in Osaka can complete vaccinations, around 10 percent of the targeted elderly population.