Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward is planning to prioritize residents in their 20s and 30s for its mass inoculation plan — a rare move that gives the younger demographic top priority among its working-age population amid concerns over their lack of access to family doctors.

Like most municipalities across the nation, Shinjuku is currently focusing on vaccinating people age 65 or older at a slew of mass vaccination sites it operates across the ward.

Those from age 60 to 64 are next in the line for shots, but the ward will gradually shift its focus toward younger people as early as next week when it starts distributing vaccination coupons to residents age 16 through 59.

Within this age group, those in their 20s and 30s will be the first to be allowed to apply for slots at public facilities repurposed as vaccination venues, Shinjuku Mayor Kenichi Yoshizumi said last week, with the start of reservations currently slated for July 7. That will be followed by reservations from those in their 40s and 50s, and then from those age 19 or younger.

The policy underscores the ward’s desire to curb infections among the young, many of whom don’t have a family doctor.

“People in their 20s or 30s are less likely to have their own primary care physicians, which potentially contributes to their poorer access to medicine,” said ward official Hironori Kusuhara.

“So we felt mass vaccination sites will be the best option for them, while those in their 40s and 50s will instead be encouraged to visit individual medical facilities for the jabs.”

Virus figures suggest that speeding up the vaccinations of a younger generation has its own merits.

Shinjuku Ward's vaccine policy underscores its desire to curb infections among the young, many of whom don't have a family doctor. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
Shinjuku Ward’s vaccine policy underscores its desire to curb infections among the young, many of whom don’t have a family doctor. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

The results of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing conducted by the ward last month pointed to sizable virus positivity rates of 26.42% and 20.62% among those in their 20s and 30s, respectively. That compares with respective rates of 22.5% and 15.56% for those in their 40s and 50s.

Although Shinjuku is home to prominent nighttime entertainment establishments that have been repeatedly criticized over the spread of COVID-19 infections over the past year, Kusuhara says the intended policy of prioritizing younger people for mass vaccinations is not meant to single out specific groups of workers.

“We don’t consider people in their 20s and 30s to be synonymous with the so-called nighttime entertainment sector,” the official said.

After an initially slow rollout, Japan’s vaccination campaign is picking up speed, in part buoyed by the initiative municipalities across the nation are taking in minimizing vaccine waste and prioritizing certain professionals, such as schoolteachers, caregivers and nursery staff, for shots.

In a surprise declaration, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said earlier this week that all residents in Japan who wish to get vaccinated will be able to get their shots by November, a much earlier timeline than originally anticipated.

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