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With the COVID-19 vaccination rollout just starting to gather steam in Japan, local governments have come up with a variety of ways to use surplus doses resulting from sudden appointment cancellations and no-shows.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has requested in writing that each local government study and adopt “flexible measures” to address the question of whom should be administered leftover doses that would otherwise be discarded.

Once thawed and diluted, the vaccines must be used quickly and local governments are racking their brains to avoid having them go to waste — devising plans for waiting lists or targeting teachers, for instance, to receive the unused shots.

Takao Shiraiwa, mayor of Nanyo, Yamagata Prefecture, tweeted that he has instructed the city office to vaccinate nursery and kindergarten teachers with surplus doses to “prevent COVID-19 clusters at facilities for infants.”

The Nanyo government has introduced a system in which nursery school teachers and others may wait on standby at home when vaccinations are conducted at facilities for older people and then rush to the venue to receive inoculations if leftover doses are available at the end of the day.

The standby system has also been expanded to include home-care workers who might visit bedridden older people.

The Sanjo Municipal Government in Niigata Prefecture also decided to use extra doses to inoculate elementary and junior high school teachers and staff members.

The city office will administer vaccines “irrespective of age to avoid discarding vaccines as a top priority,” tweeted Mayor Ryo Takizawa.

If there are surplus doses at the end of the day, the office contacts elementary and junior high schools in Sanyo so that preregistered teachers and staff members can head to a vaccine site to receive a shot. At least 900 people have registered on the waitlist, according to the office.

In Toride, Ibaraki Prefecture, extra doses are given to social welfare workers 65 and older who have not yet made appointments for vaccinations because they make frequent contact with older people during home visits and consultations, a city official said.

In Hamura, western Tokyo, officials were taken by surprise when more than 450 people 65 and older registered for a system it introduced to allow around five older people to wait on standby at the inoculation site in there are spare shots.

A woman receives a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Kitaaiki, Nagano Prefecture. | KYODO
A woman receives a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Kitaaiki, Nagano Prefecture. | KYODO

The standby list “gathered so many people even though there was no guarantee they would receive a shot at the site,” one official said.

Meanwhile, the town office of Sugito, Saitama Prefecture, has introduced a lottery system for people 65 and older who preregister for leftover doses. A town official draws the slips at random and the office then notifies the winners.

As of May 23, 17 of more than 300 people who registered for the lottery had gotten vaccinated.

The large number of registrants “shows that many people are eager to receive shots as early as possible,” a town official said.

In the town of Tamamura, Gunma Prefecture, nearly 500 people registered for the vaccine waitlist in the first five days.

But the effort to curb wasted doses has also led to some confusion — perhaps due to a lack of a thorough explanation on the part of local government officials.

The number of registrants on the waitlist in Gojo, Nara Prefecture, quickly reached around 250, but a city official said, “There are some elderly people who mistook the program for group vaccination appointments.”

Yuni, Hokkaido, and Kainan, Wakayama Prefecture, have opened their waitlists to anyone 16 or older. In Yuni, nearly 100 people, including teenagers, have already registered.

“As our population is less than 5,000, we were afraid of having a shortage of applicants by limiting the waiting list to the elderly,” a town official said. “We have drastically broadened the scope to minimize wasted vaccines as much as possible.”

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