Vaccine minister Taro Kono stressed flexibility for the nation’s inoculation program on Saturday, saying that the government will consider having students and workers receive shots possibly at their schools and workplaces, while also urging municipalities not to waste doses when people cancel reservations.
While most older people won’t have to make major adjustments to their schedules to receive vaccines at local inoculation sites, younger people, particularly in the Tokyo area and the Kansai region, often commute to work or school outside of the cities and prefectures where they reside.
Therefore, “we have to think about the cases where those people can receive shots during the daytime at places like workplaces,” Kono said during an appearance on a TV program.
Japan started its vaccination for people aged 65 or older this week and provided 6,674 shots as of Thursday, according to a government website.
Asked whether virus hot spots will be given priority for vaccines, Kono said that won’t be necessary because Japan will have enough vaccine supplies from Pfizer Inc. after the Golden Week holiday period through early May. Kono said at that point Japan will procure 10 million shots every week.
The speed of inoculations, therefore, will be up to how fast local municipalities can arrange for the shots to be given to their residents, the minister said.
“After Golden Week, we will do our best to provide the amount of vaccine shots that each municipality asks for,” he said, adding that by the end of June, Japan will likely secure enough vaccines for its 36 million older residents to get two shots.
Kono also said that the government will supply more six-shot syringes from May 10, which will also accelerate the speed of the campaign. Ordinary syringes can provide only five shots from each container of the vaccine.
Japan is a laggard in launching its vaccination program compared to many other nations and with a fourth wave of infections hitting major prefectures, including Osaka and Tokyo, the country is desperate to gear up its rollout.
So far, the government has approved only the Pfizer vaccine.
It has signed a contract with another U.S. pharmaceutical firm, Moderna Inc., as well as British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC. The government is not expected to approve those shots until at least May.
Asked if people can choose which vaccine they want to get once Moderna and AstraZeneca are approved, Kono said the government will think about how to provide them once they are given the green light.
As for cases in which older people cancel their vaccine appointments or fail to show up at the inoculation site, Kono stressed that municipalities should act flexibly so as not to waste the vaccines, saying they could give shots to medical workers, or call other older people or even younger people to receive the jabs.
Media reported this week that some inoculation sites discarded vaccines after reservations were canceled, as the vaccines need to be used within six hours after dilution.
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