• Jiji, Bloomberg, staff report

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Health minister Norihisa Tamura said Sunday that COVID-19 vaccinations of the general public may start in July, depending on vaccine supplies, after the country began inoculations for those 65 and older earlier this month.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has suggested that the government aims to finish administering two doses of the vaccine to older people by the end of July, with the next step being the remaining general public.

Tamura, speaking on a television program, indicated that the rest of the general population could start to get shots around the time vaccinations for those over 65 enter the final stage “if sufficient amounts” of the vaccine are secured.

On a separate TV program Sunday, Tamura also teased the possibility of the government approving AstraZeneca PLC’s COVID-19 vaccine as soon as the end of May. The British drugmaker has already filed an application for approval with the government.

Most of the people 65 and over are expected to receive Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine, Tamura said. The Pfizer product is currently the only COVID-19 vaccine approved in Japan.

Meanwhile, Japan is planning to set up large-scale vaccination venues that can handle about 10,000 people a day, the Nikkei business daily reported Sunday.

A site in Tokyo should be operational by the end of May and a similar effort is underway for Osaka, the newspaper said, without disclosing the source of its information.

A shortage of medical professionals has slowed Japan’s vaccination program and qualified staff from the Self-Defense Forces will be deployed, Nikkei reported.

The report comes amid concerns about possible shortages of doctors and nurses to carry out group vaccinations in major cities, with inoculations for older people set to start in earnest as early as next month.

In one example of movement to alleviate these concerns, a panel of experts appointed by the health ministry on Friday approved a plan to allow dentists to administer COVID-19 vaccines if there are not enough doctors.

In Japan, only doctors, or nurses under the instruction of doctors, are legally allowed to inject vaccines.

But the health ministry believes that it would not be illegal for trained dentists to give vaccines with the consent of vaccine recipients if local governments have difficulties securing enough doctors, according to the panel.

While dentists have basic injection skills, the ministry plans to train them, including in ways to deal with anaphylactic reactions by people who have been vaccinated.

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