A growing number of local municipalities have been canceling plans for COVID-19 vaccinations as the government finds itself surprisingly short on supplies.
Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccine rollout, said Friday that vaccine doses to be distributed over the two weeks from July 19 would be about 12.4 million shots, only about a third of what municipalities have requested.
In Hyogo Prefecture, the city of Kobe has said it will cancel vaccination appointments for people receiving their first shots starting next Tuesday and suspend applications for people below 60 years of age.
The city, home to more than 1.5 million people, said that the decision to cancel appointments for people receiving first shots came as supplies from the government over the two weeks from next Monday looked to be less than half of what it requested. Supplies for the two weeks from July 19, meanwhile, would be only about 160,000 shots, or roughly a fifth of its request.
Kobe said it sent a request to Kono for additional supplies, but had not received a response.
Similar situations are unfolding across the country.
The city of Chiba halted new vaccine reservations for first shots from Friday, the same day the city of Osaka announced it would suspend first-shot vaccinations from July 12.
The supply issues have come as a shock to municipalities that had been ramping up inoculations at the request of the central government, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowing to finish the vaccine drive for all willing individuals by the end of November.
Akashi in Hyogo Prefecture also suspended new reservations and postponed shots for people ages 60 to 64 who booked their appointments after June 30.
“As mayor, I feel sorry for causing an inconvenience to citizens as a result of having trusted the central government,” Akashi Mayor Fusaho Izumi told broadcaster TBS, adding that municipalities including Akashi that have been accelerating their inoculation drives have been seeing their stockpiles quickly dwindle.
The recent surge in requests for vaccines by municipalities seems to have taken even the Suga government by surprise. When Kono was asked early last month whether the strong demand for a workplace vaccination program could bring about a vaccine shortage, the vaccine chief did not seem to be taking the possibility seriously, cynically urging the inoculations to be sped up to the level that would halt vaccinations.
The government said it had received about 100 million shots worth of Pfizer Inc.’s vaccines by the end of June, with plans to secure 70 million more in the July-September period. It also plans to secure 50 million shots of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine, which has been used at mass vaccination sites run by the Self-Defense Forces, by the end of September. But the government has halted accepting new requests for workplace vaccinations using Moderna’s shots amid worries the requests could exceed the government supplies.
The supply woes also come as daily vaccinations have surged above 1 million shots on some days during the past month, which some government sources say could be straining supplies. Despite the latest setback, however, the government looks determined to keep its pledge to finish all vaccinations by November.
Taking the supply shortage concerns into account, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s COVID-19 task force agreed on Tuesday that the Pfizer shots should be used for workplace vaccinations if supplies of the Moderna vaccine starts to run low. The task force also called for the government to consider using the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved for emergency use in May but has not been used in Japan amid concerns about very rare blood clots reported overseas.
During a meeting with Suga in Tokyo on Friday, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said that metropolitan areas — where the risk of large-scale infections is highest — should be given priority for receiving vaccines. However, the government has so far resisted such pleas and Suga said only that he will do his best to quickly distribute vaccines.
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