Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga signaled Wednesday that all residents wishing to be vaccinated will be able to receive their shots by November, a bold declaration as his administration seeks to reassure the public that the pandemic’s end is near in the country ahead of a looming general election.
Suga’s remark comes as vaccinations have picked up speed across the country, after his administration faced criticism for an initially slow rollout. Ahead of a snap election that must be held by late October, the prime minister has essentially made an all-or-nothing bet on vaccines delivering success for his administration.
“I want vaccines to have been given to all residents who want to receive them by the October-November period,” Suga said during a one-on-one faceoff with Yukio Edano, who heads the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, in parliament.
A senior administration official indicated earlier this week that a COVID-19 vaccination needs to be given before a flu shot is administered in winter time.
Suga previously pledged to finish vaccinations for the 36 million people age 65 or older by the end of July. During Wednesday’s debate, the prime minister said he had been briefed that 98% of all of Japan’s municipalities will be able to meet the target, expressing confidence that strain on the health care system will be relieved “significantly.”
In February, Japan started its vaccine rollout, at first inoculating medical workers and then expanding to people age 65 and older in April.
But frustrated by sluggish progress, in part caused by bureaucratic red tape, Suga turned to doctors and nurses from the Self-Defense Forces to vaccinate up to 10,000 and 5,000 people per day in Tokyo and Osaka, respectively.
As of Monday, about 10% of the population in Japan had been given at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine, according to Our World in Data, the lowest among major economies.
The low vaccination rate as well as the administration’s insistence on hosting the Tokyo Games have contributed to the Suga Cabinet’s approval rating hitting a record low in multiple polls.
The prime minister on Wednesday touched on vaccinations at workplaces and universities, which will be launched on June 21, and estimated the grand total of doses could “exceed at least 40 million by the end of this month.”
“Measures against the coronavirus have greatly changed since vaccines have been developed,” Suga said. “I will spearhead the vaccine rollout program with all my power and prevent the infections from spreading.”
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