COVID-19 vaccinations for residents of Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures age 65 or over began Monday at the Osaka mass vaccination site operated by the Self-Defense Forces, a move that brought the number of prefectures covered by SDF-run vaccination venues to seven.
The addition of the two prefectures neighboring Osaka Prefecture expanded the combined scope of people eligible for inoculations at the venue and another SDF-run site in Tokyo to the maximum level initially planned.
Bookings for shots can be made through the Defense Ministry homepage or the Line messaging app.
Reservations for the two weeks from June 14 were able to be made from around 11 a.m. Monday for the Tokyo venue and from around 1 p.m. the same day for the Osaka venue.
The sites initially only allowed bookings for the upcoming week, but the reservation period was expanded to two weeks to urge people to get appointments as swiftly as possible before many start to receive their second jabs from June 28.
The Tokyo and Osaka venues targeted only residents of the city of Osaka and the capital's central 23 wards at the time of their launch on May 24. The sites covered those living in the prefectures of Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Osaka by the following week.
The daily number of shots that can be administered was also gradually raised from 7,500 at the start of the program to the maximum limit of 15,000 by May 31.
With the expansion of areas covered by the Osaka venue, free shuttle buses will run every 30 minutes linking the venue with Shin-Osaka and Tennoji stations, in addition to those already picking up people at Osaka and Namba stations.
In Tokyo, shuttle buses take people to the vaccination site from Tokyo Station every five minutes, also free of charge.
Meanwhile, the government has launched a study to verify the effect of coronavirus vaccines on its citizens as the country grapples with the pandemic and seeks to speed up its inoculation rollout, sources close to the matter said Sunday.
The study, targeting around 1,500 people, aims to assess the effect of U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.'s vaccine on Japanese people, after the government approved its use based on data from clinical trials conducted by the company abroad.
In Pfizer's clinical trials, which involved around 40,000 people in the United States and other locations, the vaccine achieved 95% efficacy in preventing COVID-19. But the efficacy rate fell to 74% among Asians, although their participation was small in the trials.
A separate trial conducted in Japan showed results signaling the vaccine's efficacy, but there was insufficient data, as the trial only had 160 participants.
In the government's efficacy test, a health ministry research group will separate the 1,500 participants into two groups — those who are vaccinated and those who are not — and then observe them for six months to determine the number of people who become infected and how many develop COVID-19 symptoms, as well as their amount of antibodies, the sources said.
Some participants have been drawn from medical staff at the Osaka City University Hospital and workers at the Osaka Municipal Government.
The health ministry also plans to conduct similar studies on the effectiveness of vaccines developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna Inc. and Britain's AstraZeneca PLC, which were approved by the government in May.
The mass vaccination centers are using the Moderna vaccine, while inoculations conducted by local governments use the Pfizer shot.
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