• Kyodo

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Universities across Japan are preparing to provide COVID-19 vaccination venues to help accelerate the country's slow inoculation rollout, with government sources speaking Tuesday of a plan to start giving shots at seven state-run schools later this month.

A total of 497 campuses at 350 public and private universities nationwide have said they can offer their facilities as vaccination venues, according to an education ministry tally in May, with some of them already being used at the request of local governments implementing vaccination campaigns.

But some university officials have expressed concern about an influx of vaccine recipients to the campuses that could disrupt classes for students and their club activities.

The central government is arranging to use universities as well as workplaces for the vaccination drive from June 21, starting with the seven national schools.

However, Tohoku University in Miyagi Prefecture, one of the seven schools, said it has yet to secure venues because it is difficult to estimate how many students and others will receive shots on its campus.

"We have yet to start consultations with the education ministry and local governments and are not sure whether the planned inoculation can begin in time for the schedule," a Tohoku University official said.

As some doctors and other medical staff at the university's hospital have already been dispatched to a mass inoculation center for older people in Sendai, where the university is located, the official said, "We are not sure whether we can secure enough personnel to administer shots" on campus.

Japan's vaccination rollout was launched in February, initially for health care workers and expanded to people age 65 or over in April. At present, only about 8% of the country's 126 million people have received at least one dose, lagging far behind many other countries.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tuesday that the June 21 starting date for vaccinations at workplaces and universities could be brought forward if the government believed there was a prospect of completing the ongoing vaccination of older people ahead of the initial goal of the end of July.

Firms and universities will determine who will be inoculated, Kato said.

Chiba University, headquartered in the city of Chiba, is among the universities that have already offered their facilities for the vaccination campaign at the request of local governments.

Its satellite campus in Tokyo's Sumida Ward has been administering shots to up to 150 older local citizens per day since May 10.

Fukuoka Prefectural University will also turn its gymnasium into a mass inoculation center from next Monday through the end of July, following a local government request.

The university said it will try to avoid confusion by separating the vaccine recipients and students. The school also said it is scrambling to secure alternative facilities for sporting classes and club activities held at the gymnasium.

More students are expected to return to the campus if the state of emergency over the virus is lifted in Fukuoka Prefecture on the current end date of June 20.

"Although we are concerned about the burden on students (from hosting the vaccination site), it is a duty for universities to contribute to society," a university official said.

The reaction of students to the planned on-campus vaccination program was mixed, with some welcoming it as it can reduce the risk of infection and others saying older people and those with pre-existing health conditions should be given priority.

The government had planned to vaccinate those with underlying conditions next along with those working for nursing homes after finishing vaccinating older people.

But it now plans to have the rollout for the general public under the age of 65 proceed at the same time as for those with underlying conditions.

A second-year student at Waseda University in Tokyo welcomed the planned on-campus vaccination program, as she was wondering whether she should abandon her plan to study abroad as a vaccination is typically required by universities overseas.

"As I believed inoculation for the younger generation was still far away, I am pleased if it can come earlier," the 20-year-old said.

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