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Amid the unabated spread of the coronavirus, a number of local governments across Japan are working to set up large-scale venues for mass vaccinations.

By carrying out mass vaccinations, in addition to group vaccinations by municipalities and inoculations at medical institutions, local governments are aiming to accelerate the pace of the nation's immunization drive.

At the same time, they are still struggling to find the best ways to inoculate citizens, due to such challenges as managing booking information and securing medical workers to administer shots.

Stadiums and abandoned schools

Aichi Prefecture will start mass vaccinations on Monday, the same day as vaccinations managed by the Self-Defense Forces are scheduled to begin at two state-run large-scale venues in Tokyo and Osaka.

The Aichi Prefectural Government will offer mass vaccinations at two venues, including one at a terminal building of the prefectural-run Nagoya Airport in the town of Toyoyama, adjacent to Nagoya, with the aim of inoculating a total of 3,000 people a day.

Local governments around the venues started accepting appointments on Monday.

In addition, the Nagoya government plans to utilize Paloma Mizuho stadium, which has been closed for renovation, as a vaccination site from July at the earliest. Group vaccinations planned in the city until the end of June have been fully booked.

"As soon as we finish inoculating older people, we want to go ahead and start vaccinating other citizens," a senior city government official said.

Gunma Prefecture will also start mass vaccinations on a trial basis on Monday, using an elementary school building in Ota that closed in March.

A man gets a coronavirus shot at a mass vaccination center in Nagoya last week. | KYODO
A man gets a coronavirus shot at a mass vaccination center in Nagoya last week. | KYODO

After mass vaccinations at the site start in earnest in June, the prefectural government aims to inoculate about 1,000 people per day.

"We can hope the vaccination speed across the prefecture will improve drastically," Gunma Gov. Ichita Yamamoto said.

The prefectural governments of Saitama and Mie, as well as the city government of Kobe, have also announced plans to operate large-scale vaccination venues of their own.

Multilayered structures

The stepped-up efforts by local governments reflect in part the central government's eagerness to speed up the vaccine rollout.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has set a goal of completing vaccinations for elderly people by the end of July.

The central government has decided to offer subsidies to local governments that independently establish large-scale vaccination centers.

It has also released the proportion of municipalities expected to finish vaccinations for the elderly by the end of July for each prefecture, in order to spur local governments to accelerate vaccination efforts.

Meanwhile, some people are concerned about multiple administrative bodies taking charge of vaccination programs in the same areas.

The city government of Osaka has decided to use the Intex Osaka convention center in the prefectural capital for mass vaccinations, while a similar center will be set up by the Osaka Prefectural Government.

A department store is used as a mass vaccination venue in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. | KYODO
A department store is used as a mass vaccination venue in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. | KYODO

Including one to be set up by the central government, mass vaccinations in Osaka Prefecture will have a multilayered management structure involving three administrative entities.

It is still unclear where the prefectural government will establish its vaccination venue, but residents of the city of Osaka will not be eligible in principle to get vaccinated there.

The city government will manage appointments for vaccinations at the Intex Osaka and other venues on the same web site.

As the central government has a booking system different to that of the city government, however, double bookings may occur.

"We're thinking (about what to do about the problem) as we go," a city government official said.

Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa has expressed concerns about possible conflicts over medical workers between the prefecture and municipalities.

"If the prefectural government sets up its own facility, it may disrupt vaccination efforts by cities, towns and villages," Kuroiwa said.

Gifu Gov. Hajime Furuta suggested that setting up a large-scale venue may be inefficient.

"Does it make any sense to set up one site in a big prefecture and have older people travel a long way?" Furuta said.

All to save face for Suga?

There have been disagreements between the central and local governments over mass vaccination centers.

The government of Fukuoka Prefecture, which was added to the list of areas under the central government's coronavirus state of emergency earlier this month, working with the city government of Fukuoka, has asked the state to establish a large-scale vaccination venue in the prefecture.

The central government, however, expressed reluctance to build such a facility in Fukuoka in addition to Tokyo and Osaka, forcing the Fukuoka Prefectural Government to consider establishing a venue independently.

At a meeting of prefectural governors, Saitama Gov. Motohiro Ono said that the central government "should have established a venue for group vaccinations in each prefecture." Saitama has decided to set up such a venue on its own.

In Akita Prefecture, the share of municipalities expected to finish vaccinating older citizens by the central government's goal of the end of July stood at 56.0 %, the lowest in the nation.

"Government agencies have called and told us to make efforts to achieve it (the goal) somehow as they had been ordered from above," Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake told reporters.

"To put it simply, they are asking us to help save face for the prime minister," Satake said.

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