Local governments are being offered a degree of flexibility in who they can prioritize for inoculations — on condition they promise to finish giving shots to people 65 and older by the end of July — Japan’s minister in charge of the vaccine rollout has said.

At the moment, local governments across the country are scrambling to vaccinate all their older residents by the end of July — a target imposed on them by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Although older residents will still be prioritized for the time being, municipalities are being given the freedom to decide how to set aside shots for other demographics and professions such as schoolteachers, Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccines, said on his own web program Saturday.

“If municipal heads can give their word that they can absolutely finish inoculating older people by the end of July, they are welcome to create their own priority slots,” Kono said.

As an example, the minister cited the city of Fukuoka, where such initiatives are already underway. Following Mayor Soichiro Takashima’s recent announcement, the city on Friday started giving shots to caregivers for older people in an effort to prevent virus clusters at their workplaces.

The city will continue to prioritize vaccinating older residents as requested by the central government, but a mass vaccination site operated there has now extended its opening hours to accommodate other groups, too.

Once caregivers have been inoculated, nursery and kindergarten staff will then be allowed access to the vaccination site, followed by schoolteachers, according to the city’s schedule.

If all goes well, both older residents and professionals designated by the city as priority groups could be fully vaccinated by the end of July, Takashima told reporters last week.

“We want to further speed up the rollout so that we can bring forward the timeline for vaccinations of people younger than 65,” the mayor added.

Kono also said a similar proposal has been made by Gunma Gov. Ichita Yamamoto, who the minister quoted as expressing an eagerness to set up the prefecture’s own prioritization system.

The Suga administration is intent on expediting Japan’s vaccination campaign, as the rollout has been far slower than other wealthy nations. On Friday, the prime minister doubled down on his commitment to ramping up the number of shots administered per day to 1 million.

From June, municipalities confident about meeting the July deadline for older residents are expected to further widen their inoculation drives and start administering shots to the general population, including those with pre-existing health conditions, Suga said.

Health minister Norihisa Tamura on Sunday said municipalities should prepare to start inoculations for the general public at the same time as for those who have pre-existing conditions. Tamura noted it is difficult to grasp exactly how many individuals have underlying health conditions, as some may not report it.

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.