• Jiji, Kyodo

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Japan started administering AstraZeneca PLC’s COVID-19 vaccine in the city of Osaka on Monday as part of an effort to step up vaccinations.

The central government has provided a total of 52,800 doses of the vaccine to six prefectures — Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka and Okinawa — that have been under a COVID-19 state of emergency.

Kawaguchi in Saitama Prefecture started administering AstraZeneca shots later Monday while other municipalities in the six prefectures will soon start their programs using AstraZeneca vaccines.

The health ministry approved the vaccine developed by the British drugmaker for use in Japan in May, but its use had been put on hold due to concerns about blood clots.

People eligible to receive AstraZeneca shots include those aged 40 or older, and those aged 18 or above who cannot take the Pfizer Inc. or Moderna Inc. doses due to reasons such as allergic reactions. The two shots are administered with a gap of eight weeks.

The city of Osaka plans to administer 3,780 shots a week at Shiromi Hall in Chuo Ward. Vaccinations have been fully booked for the first seven days. It plans to open another vaccination site on Aug. 30.

The move came as Osaka Prefecture has seen daily infections top 2,000 since Aug. 18, with the city of Osaka accounting for some 40% of the cases.

While the city said it still expects to complete inoculation of its residents wishing to receive shots using mainly the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna by November, it hopes the AstraZeneca shots will speed up the process.

Hisato Takeuchi, 49, who received an AstraZeneca shot in Osaka, said he felt more at risk from COVID-19 after one of his acquaintances recently became infected.

“I was not able to book my appointment for any other vaccine. I thought there should be an opening slot for AstraZeneca (because of reported concerns about side effects),” he said.

Another local resident, Reiko Sakamoto, 64, said, “I’m so relieved to get my vaccination at last. I was not worried about side effects that much, because I was desperate to receive my shot as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, a facility to provide oxygen support to COVID-19 patients with relatively mild symptoms started operating Monday in Tokyo to relieve the strain on the capital’s medical system as infections surge.

The oxygen station set up by the metropolitan government in the capital’s Shibuya Ward will run around the clock. It has 130 beds and is staffed by three doctors and 25 nurses.

It is designed to treat patients who have been asked to recuperate at home but who have concerns over breathing. Stays are likely to be short-term, such as one or two nights.

Those who feel better after receiving oxygen support will be sent back home, while patients whose symptoms become severe will be considered for admission to a hospital.

As of Sunday, more than 39,000 patients in Tokyo were recovering at home or elsewhere without hospital admission, underscoring the urgent need to expand the support system in the capital.

The metropolitan government plans to add another 110 beds with oxygen-station capacity within hospitals it runs by the end of this month.

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