Japan ramps up Covid-19 vaccination process, with one in six getting their first shot

The pace is set to pick up even further as the inoculation drive will officially begin at workplaces and universities on June 21.
The pace is set to pick up even further as the inoculation drive will officially begin at workplaces and universities on June 21.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Japan has administered at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to 20 million people - or about one in six people in the country - as its inoculation campaign picks up speed after a slow start.

It took 15 weeks from the delivery of the first jab on Feb 17 to administer at least the first dose to 10 million people, but just two weeks for the next 10 million.

Vaccination Minister Taro Kono forecast on Thursday (June 17) that Japan will likely reach its goal of one million doses a day - much-derided for being over-ambitious when first mooted by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga - by this week.

The pace is set to pick up even further as the inoculation drive will officially begin at workplaces and universities next Monday.

As at Thursday (June 17), there have been more than 3,100 applications for this campaign, which will cover about 12.8 million employees, students and their families.

These include companies across diverse sectors, such as electronic giants Fujitsu and Panasonic, automaker Toyota, airline All Nippon Airways, real estate developer Mori Building, telecommunications giant SoftBank, e-commerce giant Rakuten, and beverage maker Suntory.

Further adding momentum towards normalisation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that Japan will start issuing Covid-19 vaccine passports for overseas travel from July.

Latest available Cabinet Office data shows that a total of 27.7 million doses have been administered as at Wednesday, of which 20 million were for people receiving their first dose in a two-shot regime.

A total of 7.63 million people - or 6.1 per cent of the population of 125.4 million - have been fully vaccinated.

Mr Suga has set a goal to complete vaccinating all the willing among the country's 36 million senior citizens by end-July, and the general public by "October or November".

Japan has approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, but the domestic roll-out of AstraZeneca vaccines was put on hold on the very day it was authorised due to reports of rare blood clots overseas.

The country appears to have fixed the issues that had bugged its vaccine roll-out, including a shortage of manpower and supply, as well as a cumbersome paper-based recording process.

But Mr Kono, who is also Administrative Reform Minister, said at a news conference for foreign media earlier this week that he was concerned about vaccine hesitancy among youth - which has contributed to slowing take-up rates in the United States.

He also added, in response to a question from The Straits Times, that Japan "should have done better" in digitalising the process.

"To be honest our vaccination process is not state of the art. I was astonished by how individual vaccination records will be handled by papers strictly, and I thought that was crazy (that) every city would have to count the papers or the chit number of the coupon," he said.

He added that this was a "good step forward" to nudge Japan into the digital era.