Japan mobilized military doctors and nurses to give shots to elderly people in Tokyo and Osaka on Monday as the government desperately tries to accelerate its vaccination rollout amid its determination to host the Olympics that is just two months away.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics in Tokyo after a one-year delay and has made an ambitious pledge to finish vaccinating the country’s 36 million elderly people by the end of July, despite skepticism it’s possible. Worries about public safety while many Japanese remain unvaccinated have prompted growing protests and calls for canceling the Games set to start on July 23.
Suga’s government has repeatedly expanded the area and duration of a virus state of emergency since late April and has made its virus-fighting measures stricter. Currently, Tokyo and 9 other areas that are home to 40% of the country’s population are under the emergency and further extension is deemed unavoidable.
With Covid-19 cases still persistently high, Suga now says vaccines are key to getting the infections under control. He has not made vaccinations conditional to holding the Olympics and has arranged for Pfizer to donate its vaccine for athletes through the International Olympic Committee, while trying to speed up Japan’s inoculation drive as anti-Olympic sentiment grows.
At the two mass inoculation centers staffed by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, the aim is to inoculate up to 10,000 people per day in Tokyo and another 5,000 per day in Osaka for the next three months.
People inoculated at the centers on Monday were the first in Japan to receive doses from Moderna Inc., one of two foreign-developed vaccines Japan approved on Friday.
Previously Japan had used only Pfizer Inc., and only about 2 percent of the population of 126 million has received the required two doses.
Japan began vaccinating health care workers in mid-February while sticking to a standard requirement of clinical testing inside Japan — a decision many experts said was statistically meaningless and only caused delay.
Vaccinations for the next group — the elderly, who are more likely to suffer serious Covid-19 effects — started in mid-April but has been slowed by bureaucratic bumbling including reservation procedures, unclear distribution plans and shortage of medical staff to give shots. SOVEREIGNPH