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With COVID-19 vaccinations for older people scheduled to start in Japan next week, a key focus is on whether local government personnel can manage front-line work smoothly.

Novel coronavirus infections are expected to hit a fourth nationwide wave, according to Shigeru Omi, who chairs a government advisory panel on the coronavirus crisis.

Regarding the vaccine rollout as “the trump card” for preventing a further spread of infections, the central government is taking all possible measures to help the vaccination campaign for citizens aged 65 or above, which will start on Monday.

At a news conference on Tuesday, administrative reform minister Taro Kono, who is also in charge of vaccinations, called for a calm response as some local governments had already begun accepting reservations from targeted people.

“Those who wish can surely take vaccinations. So please don’t panic,” the minister said.

The vaccination program for those aged 65 or older will cover some 36 million people, more than seven times the number of medical workers totaling some 4.8 million, for whom vaccinations began earlier this year. The vaccine, made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc., needs to be administered twice per person.

As the initial step, the government will deliver vaccine supplies for approximately 98,000 shots to local governments by the end of this week. It plans to increase supplies gradually to secure by the end of June enough for every targeted citizen to receive two shots.

Vaccine administration work by local governments is expected to get into full swing after the Golden Week holidays from late April to early May.

Meanwhile, 194 local governments have expressed hopes to administer vaccine injections during the holidays.

“We want to ensure adequate supplies,” Kono said.

Concerns linger as to whether local governments can secure the adequate number of staff for making arrangements at inoculation venues, as well as medical workers who give vaccine shots.

Amid a nationwide increase in infection cases, medical workers may have no choice but to put priority on COVID-19 patients if the medical service system is strained.

There are also worries about the government’s planned new system for managing vaccination records. Simulating in front of journalists the task of feeding personal data into a tablet computer, Kono said: “This is easy. No complicated operation is needed.”

Still, the system may increase the burden of administrative work on local government personnel.

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