A COVID-19 inoculation site for supposedly vaccine-hesitant youth in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward got off to a rocky start Friday after the capital dramatically underestimated the size of the crowd that would turn up.
Registration was supposed to begin at 11:50 a.m., but a line had amassed by sunrise and every slot was filled by 7:30 a.m. According to officials, around 15 people were already waiting in line by the time staff arrived at the facility at 4 a.m. Some had been waiting overnight.
“I live in Yokohama so there’s no way I can get here that early,” said Arisa, a 23-year-old who works in Tokyo and gave only her first name. Having had no luck reserving a slot at a vaccine site in Kanagawa Prefecture, she thought she would try her luck in Shibuya — but tickets had run out by the time she arrived at around 10:30 a.m. “I don’t know what to do now,” she said.
Dozens began to arrive at around 10 a.m. on Friday thinking they had given themselves ample time to claim a spot in line, only to find that registration had ended hours earlier and that they would have to return another day.
The confusion and disarray meant many left frustrated, empty handed and unvaccinated.
“The problem is that they told people not to line up, but went ahead and gave tickets to people who had been lining up since early morning,” said Masayuki, a 35-year-old from Tokyo’s Suginami Ward who arrived just before 11 a.m.
“The virus is spreading and I can’t get vaccinated,” Masayuki said. “What else am I supposed to do?”
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said that, beginning Saturday, the site will use a lottery system. Those who arrive between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. will be given a ticket on a first-come, first-served basis, then notified via the Line messaging app by 11:30 a.m. when they can get their shot.
“We are of course happy to see so many people are interested in getting vaccinated, but we simply didn’t expect this many,” said Emi Shibuya, a Tokyo Metropolitan Government staffer overseeing the inoculation facility. “Beginning Saturday, we will reassess our operations.”
With two booths initially said to be capable of vaccinating 200 people every day until Oct. 8., the site — located inside the Shibuya City Labor and Welfare Hall — is the smallest of all vaccine facilities operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The site was meant to offer people between the ages of 16 and 39 a way to get vaccinated without a reservation — especially those who haven’t been able to book an appointment at a local clinic or inoculation venue.
“You built this place to vaccinate young people, who you say don’t want to be vaccinated, and you don’t have enough space?” one man shouted at a city staffer while holding the hand of his teenage daughter in front of the building just before 11 a.m. “What are we supposed to do now?”
Young people have been subject to consistent scrutiny in Japan amid the pandemic. People in their 20s and 30s have accounted for the largest portion of new cases nationwide during the ongoing fifth COVID-19 wave.
Public officials had focused on urging young people to avoid going outside, but figures released by the capital last month showed that older people between 40 and 64 accounted for the largest portion of evening foot traffic.
“Until now there was this image that young people were the most active — that they were going out the most to see friends, eat at restaurants and spend their leisure time in public,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said earlier this month. “It appears that older individuals, namely middle-aged people, are the most mobile.”
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