• Kyodo

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Japan’s state-run mass coronavirus vaccination centers will start inoculating people between the ages of 18 and 64 on Thursday in an attempt to fill vacant appointment slots, the ministry in charge of operations said Tuesday.

The centers in Tokyo and Osaka were set up last month by the Defense Ministry to vaccinate people age 65 and above living in seven prefectures in the metropolitan and Kansai areas.

But last week, with appointments remaining largely unbooked for two weeks through June 27, the ministry expanded the scope to vaccinate eligible people from anywhere within the nation.

The ministry said it will start accepting reservation requests for vacant slots available at the venues from midnight Tuesday.

The centers, which can inoculate up to 10,000 people a day in Tokyo and 5,000 at the Osaka venue, are administering U.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna Inc.’s two-dose vaccine, which is recommended for those age 18 and older.

To fill vacant appointments, the ministry on Monday expanded the scope of those eligible for vaccinations at the sites to police officers and others in charge of crisis management, in addition to older people from across the country.

The decision made members of the Self-Defense Forces, the National Police Agency, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency and Japan Coast Guard eligible for vaccination at the two sites.

At the Tokyo center, about 87,000 of the 120,000 vaccination slots for the two-week period from Monday were unfilled as of Tuesday, while about 33,000 of the 60,000 slots remained open at the Osaka center, according to the ministry.

The slots from July 28 onward are mostly filled by older people for their second-round shots.

Inoculations at the vaccination centers, run by the Self-Defense Forces, come in tandem with shots being administered at municipalities nationwide, mainly to health care workers and older people.

Some municipalities have already started vaccinations of people age under 65 at their own venues.

Companies and universities were recently given the all-clear to administer vaccinations on site, with major airliners leading the initiative.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said the government is aiming to complete the vaccination of those age 65 or older by the end of July and finish vaccinating all residents wishing to get shots by November.

About 5% of the population have been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday. The rate remains low compared with other industrialized countries.

The two state-run venues were initially set up to vaccinate people age 65 or above living in the capital and the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, as well as in Osaka and nearby Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures.

“I am grateful I could be vaccinated here. The staff were kind and I think its merits are not well-known. The government should promote this place more,” said 74-year-old Takayoshi Sano, who traveled to the Tokyo venue from Ibaraki Prefecture, adding that he would have needed to wait until July to be vaccinated in his municipality.

At the Osaka venue, 65-year-old Masazumi Matsushima, who said it took an hour to travel from Nara, added, “When I think of the traveling distance, it’d be best to receive a shot from my doctor, but I couldn’t get a reservation. I wanted to be vaccinated as soon as possible.”

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