Japan opens mass Covid-19 vaccination sites for the elderly ahead of Olympics

Large-scale inoculation sites operated by local governments also opened in the prefectures of Aichi, Miyagi, and Gunma. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan opened mass inoculation centres on Monday (May 24) as it races to vaccinate most of its elderly population before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.

The centres in Tokyo and Osaka will vaccinate thousands of people every day, giving a boost to Japan's sluggish inoculation drive as officials battle a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

"It's better to get it early," said Mr Tetsuya Urano, 66, who was among the first to be vaccinated in Tokyo. "It went pretty smoothly, all in all."

The Tokyo facility will operate 12 hours a day to dispense shots to 10,000 people daily for the next three months. The site in Osaka, Japan's western metropolis, will build up to about 5,000 shots a day.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called for the centres last month to speed up the vaccination roll-out. Large-scale inoculation sites operated by local governments also opened in the prefectures of Aichi, Miyagi, and Gunma.

The fourth wave of infections has led authorities to make state of emergency declarations covering much of the country, including Tokyo, raising some concerns about the Olympic Games, due to begin on July 23.

The states of emergency for most regions are due to end on May 31. The government is leaning towards extending the measures, several people with knowledge of the decision said.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, whose region has been among the hardest hit in the current wave, told reporters he would decide on whether to request an extension of the emergency on Tuesday.

Just 4.4 per cent of Japan's population of 125 million have received at least one vaccine dose, the slowest rate among the world's larger, rich countries.

Japan began its inoculation push in mid-February, later than most major economies. The campaign was slowed initially by scant supplies of imported doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

But even as shipments increased, the roll-out has been hampered by manpower shortages and malfunctions in the reservation system.

The mass vaccination centres for the elderly are using Moderna's vaccine, which was approved last Friday, along with AstraZeneca's vaccine.

On Monday, Johnson & Johnson said it had filed for regulatory approval of its one-shot candidate and it could begin supplying the country in early 2022.

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