Authorities started accepting online bookings Monday for older people to receive COVID-19 vaccines at large state-run centers in Tokyo and Osaka, as Japan tries to accelerate its rollout amid a fourth wave of infections.
Residents of the capital's 23 wards age 65 or older became able to book appointments via the Defense Ministry's website and the Line messaging app service at around 11 a.m., before the launch of the vaccination center in central Tokyo on May 24.
Bookings for a similar vaccination center in the city of Osaka, also set to open on May 24, started at 1 p.m.
Both of the mass vaccination centers will be predominantly staffed by Self-Defense Forces doctors and nurses.
The Defense Ministry said Monday that as of 8 p.m. it had filled 41,000 of 50,000 slots set aside for reservations next week at the Tokyo mass vaccination site.
For the Osaka site, all 25,000 slots for next week were booked within 25 minutes, the ministry said.
Older people living elsewhere in Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa as well as in Osaka, nearby Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures will be eligible for inoculation at the state-run vaccination centers later, provided they have not already received a vaccine shot.
In order to avoid overwhelming the system, online bookings will be restricted to residents of Tokyo's 23 wards and the city of Osaka until next Sunday.
Japan began inoculating its elderly population of about 36 million in mid-April, after its vaccination campaign for health care workers started in February. But only around 3% of its population of 126 million has received at least one shot of vaccine, the slowest vaccination rate among major economies.
The government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has set a target of completing vaccinations of older people by the end of July. At present, local municipalities are in charge of the inoculation campaign.
"It will be the first operation of its kind in SDF history. Please give it your best to complete the mission," Yasuhide Nakayama, senior vice defense minister, told SDF doctors and nurses at the Tokyo vaccination center as training for the staff began Monday.
Some municipalities in Japan that run group inoculation venues have experienced problems processing appointments as phone lines and computer systems have become overloaded.
The Defense Ministry said it had secured sufficient internet server capacity and implemented cyberattack countermeasures to avoid problems.
The ministry plans to expand booking eligibility each week, accepting appointments from all seven prefectures from May 31.
Daily vaccination capacity at the large centers has been initially set at 5,000 shots in Tokyo and about 2,500 in Osaka, as staff get used to procedures. Capacity will later be increased to a maximum of 10,000 in Tokyo and 5,000 in Osaka, according to the ministry.
The vaccine developed by U.S. biotechnology company Moderna Inc. is expected to be administered at the mass inoculation venues, following its expected approval by the health ministry later this week.
To make reservations and receive shots, older people need to have vaccination tickets issued by municipalities.
As the current appointment system would allow double booking with municipalities and the state-run venues, people who have made appointments for shots at the SDF-operated centers are required to cancel their bookings at the venues run by local governments as soon as possible.
In order for SDF doctors and nurses to concentrate on performing vaccinations, administrative and other work — such as cleaning and operating the reception — at the venues will be handled by personnel from Nippon Travel Agency Co. in Tokyo and Tobu Top Tours Co. in Osaka, according to the ministry.
Bookings for large vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka can be made via the following websites:
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.