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With Japan facing the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine supply crunch, governors of major prefectures are lobbying the central government to prioritize distribution to densely populated areas where COVID-19 infections are spreading or could soon spread.

During a meeting in Tokyo on Friday with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said that metropolitan areas, where the risk of large-scale infections is high, should be first in line to receive vaccine doses.

“By vaccinating areas where the state of emergency is in place, or where infections are likely to spread, large-scale outbreaks can be prevented,” Yoshimura told reporters after his meeting with Suga.

Suga, however, only said that he will do his best to quickly distribute the vaccines to the population as a whole.

Yoshimura’s request comes as the government now faces a shortage of vaccines after allowing firms and universities to offer inoculations in addition to municipalities. The central government was forced to stop accepting new workplace applications for the vaccine program last week after it was faced with a supply crunch due to the high demand.

On Thursday, the governors of Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures sent a joint letter to Kono and health minister Norihisa Tamura requesting similar measures to prioritize places where there is a high risk of infection.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike speaks at a news conference on Friday, the first time she has spoken in person with the media after she was hospitalized for fatigue. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike speaks at a news conference on Friday, the first time she has spoken in person with the media after she was hospitalized for fatigue. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

In Osaka Prefecture, 123 new cases were reported Friday following 108 new cases on Thursday. Due to uncertainty over future supplies, Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui said Thursday it will likely stop accepting reservations for first vaccine shots at clinics and large-scale venues to make sure there is enough stock for those who are getting their second shot. The city of Chiba decided to suspend accepting reservations for vaccinations from Friday.

Yoshimura’s proposal is for larger metropolitan areas like Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka to be prioritized for shots. It could, however, face a backlash from smaller cities and more rural areas, where there are often fewer medical resources and concerns that even a few seriously ill COVID-19 patients could put a heavy strain on available hospital beds.

Even Matsui expressed reservations about Yoshimura’s proposal, telling reporters Thursday that a sudden change in vaccine distribution policy would be logistically difficult.

The government recently announced that the number of vaccinations being given each day had reached 1 million, a goal earlier promised by Suga. Kono has said around 1.2 million shots are being administered every day.

However, there have been reports of local governments stockpiling vaccines. Tamura, the health minister, said last week that the ministry would look into the possibility that stockpiling is occurring.

As of Wednesday, about 23% of the population had received at least one vaccine shot, according to Our World in Data.

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