Prefectural governors are urging the central government to boost supplies of COVID-19 vaccines as a recent supply crunch is forcing some municipalities to suspend vaccinating the younger population, even as the inoculation drive for older people has largely gone on schedule.
Forty-one governors, meeting by video link, criticized the government on Sunday over delays in vaccine supplies.
"It's ridiculous that we are told that there are no supplies after we're prepared to go ahead," Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido said. "The government needs to take a hard look at itself."
At the beginning of the meeting, Tokushima Gov. Kamon Iizumi, president of the National Governors' Association, noted that the more virulent delta variant of the virus is fast becoming the dominant COVID-19 strain.
"We have to fight off a fifth wave," he said.
Some 75% of people age 65 and over in Japan have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with most set to be fully vaccinated by the end of July, according to a government tally.
The drive, launched in April to vaccinate the older population of around 35.48 million, has gained momentum under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's target to finish inoculating the demographic by the end of July.
However, expanding vaccinations to those under 65 remains a challenge as the government struggles to distribute doses quickly enough.
Along with municipalities that are facing difficulties in securing enough supplies, new applications from companies and universities for workplace vaccinations have also been suspended.
As of Friday, 26.65 million, or 75.1% of people 65 and older, had received one shot, according to the government tally.
Since the second shot of U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.'s two-dose vaccine, which is widely used in inoculating older people, is administered three weeks after the first, most of the 26.65 million are expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of the month.
Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said completing the vaccination of 70% to 80% of the older population shows that the inoculation drive is going steadily.
"Older people are at the highest risk (for the coronavirus). I hope further efforts will be made to raise the vaccination rate among the elderly to around 90% through means such as visiting the homes of those who have difficulties going to vaccination sites," Wakita said.
Suga has said he aims to promote the vaccination of those under 65 and finish inoculating all eligible people in Japan who wish to receive shots by November.
Suga's top COVID-19 adviser, Shigeru Omi, cautioned against the recent rise in patients with severe symptoms in the 40s and 50s due to the spread of the delta variant.
Omi said vaccinating those in their 40s and 50s early is the key to containing the pandemic in the future.
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