• Kyodo

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Novel coronavirus vaccinations for around 14,000 medical staff from the Self-Defense Forces began Monday, the Defense Ministry said, as part of a program launched last month to inoculate health care workers nationwide.

The Pfizer Inc. vaccine will be administered to about 6,000 staff at 16 SDF medical institutions nationwide, including the National Defense Medical College Hospital in Saitama Prefecture, as well as to about 8,000 other SDF members in medical services.

Workers involved in transporting emergency patients from remote islands will also be among those eligible for the vaccine, the ministry said.

Koji Fukushima, director of the Self-Defense Forces Central Hospital in Tokyo, was among the first to be vaccinated, according to the ministry.

In addition to doctors and nurses, those slated to receive vaccines include dentists, pharmacists, licensed technicians for clinical tests and staff working at reception desks, the ministry said.

On Monday, the fourth batch of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Narita Airport near Tokyo from Belgium, a week after the third batch of up to 526,500 doses was delivered.

Japan received 1.36 million doses in the first three shipments.

The fourth shipment, which contained 497,250 doses, will be dispatched to inoculate medical staff.

Japan expects to receive doses for up to 1.33 million people this month and for another 5.13 million people in April if the shipment is approved by the European Union.

The government plans to provide all 4.8 million medical workers fighting the pandemic in the nation with two doses by mid-May.

Japan began administering the vaccine to hospital staff in the Tokyo metropolitan area last month.

Since last year, the SDF has been dispatched across the country to support pandemic-stricken areas. Some were deployed between February and March last year to disinfect the inside of the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama near Tokyo after an outbreak aboard.

Medical personnel were also sent last year to Hokkaido, Osaka and Okinawa prefectures, which had been struggling amid a surge in virus cases.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said in a news conference on Feb. 19 that around 14,000 SDF members would be prioritized to receive the vaccine due to their role in health care and the fight against the pandemic.

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