Japan Widens Vaccine Center Access as Thousands of Slots Remain

Japan brought forward a plan to expand access to a large-scale Covid-19 vaccination center in central Tokyo after slots were left unfilled for next week.

The available slots were booked up within hours since opening up to those aged 65 and older in the surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, according to the Defense Ministry, which operates the center. Staffed by doctors and nurses from Japan’s Self Defense Forces, the center, which kicked off Monday, has a daily capacity of 10,000 shots of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine.

More than 30% of the 70,000 slots for next week remained available as of Wednesday, leading to the decision to widen access a week earlier than planned, according to the Sankei newspaper, which first reported on the plans.

The location of the Tokyo site, in the city’s central business district and far from residential areas with large elderly populations, and the reservation system -- which can be used only online or via the Line messaging app -- are among possible reasons for the empty slots.

Similar issues did not impact Osaka, the city at the center of the current outbreak in Japan, which saw next week’s slots fill up on the first day its mass-vaccination center started taking reservations.

There are signs Japan’s vaccine rollout, which has been criticized for lagging other countries, may be starting to pick up. The country has administered more than 11 million doses, most to medical workers, with around half of those coming in the past two weeks. More than 11% of the over-65s have now received at least one dose, with an average of 400,000 doses now being given a day.

Japan Widens Vaccine Center Access as Thousands of Slots Remain

The pace of the vaccinations however has far from sufficient to head off an extension of the country’s coronavirus state of emergency, which is set to be extended today to June 20 for Tokyo, Osaka and seven other areas.

It’s also unclear for many regions when other age groups will get access to vaccines. Wakayama city, located in the best-performing region in Japan for vaccinations, plans to expand access to those under 65 with underlying health conditions from the end of June, FNN reported. The prefecture has given at least one dose to almost 25% of its over-65s.

Japan plans to lower the minimum age for Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine to 12 from the current 16 if safety and efficacy are confirmed at a ministry panel on Friday, Kyodo reported, citing Health Minister Norihisa Tamura. The Pfizer shot makes up the bulk of Japan’s arsenal against the virus. Japan has approved the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine but put its use on hold on concerns over rare cases of blood clots, and is considering offering some of its supply to neighboring Taiwan, which has struggled to secure its own shots, the Sankei newspaper said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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