Japan Airlines Co. began COVID-19 vaccinations for employees Monday, a day after All Nippon Airways Co. became the first Japanese firm known to have started offering a workplace inoculation program.
Initially targeting crew on international flights, both airlines decided to begin administering shots at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport ahead of the June 21 starting goal set by the government for companies and universities launching their own vaccination initiatives.
With the inoculations at workplaces and university campuses, the government hopes to speed up vaccinations ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which kick off in less than 40 days. The new program comes on top of the country’s existing inoculation drive, which is still mainly focused on health care workers and older people.
JAL aims to inoculate about 36,000 group employees.
ANA Holdings Inc., the parent of the major airline, said about 46,500 employees are eligible for the inoculation program but that it will give priority to around 10,000 employees, including pilots and flight attendants working on international flights.
“Now I can board an international flight with peace of mind,” Takuya Ebata, a 51-year-old ANA pilot said Sunday after receiving his first shot. “But I plan to continue taking preventive measures and not relax my guard.”
ANA vaccinated about 50 pilots and flight attendants in a meeting room next to its clinic at the airport Sunday. It will increase the number step by step and plans to inoculate around 300 people per day from June 21.
ANA said it expects to complete two-shot vaccinations for the 10,000 priority employees in late August.
Transport minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, who visited Haneda Airport on Monday to inspect the inoculation program, said the workplace vaccinations will help ease the burden on local governments. “It will help accelerate the inoculation drive for the whole nation,” he said.
Many other companies, including East Japan Railway Co. and trading house Itochu Corp., and universities are preparing to start their vaccinations for employees or students on June 21.
Japan’s vaccination rollout was launched in February for health care workers and widened to people age 65 or older in April at sites run by local governments, but the inoculation rate remains low compared with other industrialized countries.
Older people can also receive shots at state-run mass vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka that came into operation in May, while some municipalities have already started inoculations of those age 64 or younger.
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