Japan starts COVID-19 vaccinations for elderly

Apr 12 , 2021. 34 minutes ago – 09:31 KYODO NEWS

A venue in the Hachioji municipal government office for residents aged 65 and above to receive COVID-19 vaccination is pictured on April 12, 2021. (Pool photo)(Kyodo)

TOKYO – Japan started vaccinating elderly people against the novel coronavirus Monday, the second group to be inoculated following health care workers, as concern over a “fourth wave” of the pandemic grew.

The government is planning to secure enough shots of the vaccine, developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc., for roughly 36 million people aged 65 or older and deliver them to municipalities by late June. The elderly tend to develop more serious symptoms than younger people when infected with the virus.

The vaccinations come amid growing concern about a resurgence of infections in some areas, including Tokyo as well as Osaka and Kyoto prefectures, after the country fully lifted a second coronavirus state of emergency last month.

The central government has designated prefectures with surging cases as requiring tough measures to control the spread of the virus, but it has stopped short of declaring a third state of emergency, apparently hoping not to complicate efforts to host the postponed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer.

The torch relay for the Olympics began in Japan several days after the end of the second state of emergency.

With an increasing strain on the medical system amid a resurgence of infections, there is concern that doctors and nurses may not be able to keep up with the vaccination schedule.

On Monday, local governments in at least 39 of the nation’s 47 prefectures are scheduled to start vaccinating elderly residents at clinics as well as facilities such as public halls and gymnasiums, according to a Kyodo News tally.

Vaccine deliveries to the country’s prefectures started last week with 100 boxes, each enough for two shots for 500 people, so far distributed. It is expected that the rollout will rev up from the final week of April, when all of the 1,741 municipalities in Japan will have received one box.

Japan launched the vaccination program in mid-February, starting with about 4.8 million health care workers.

The Pfizer vaccine is administered twice, three weeks apart. As of Friday, 1.1 million people had received at least one shot, according to health ministry data, equivalent to less than 1 percent of Japan’s population.

The vaccination rate in Japan, which currently depends on imports for coronavirus vaccine supply, is far behind Britain and the United States, and lower than the global average of 5 percent.

Following the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, and those working at elderly care facilities are slated to be inoculated next, after which vaccinations will eventually be extended to the rest of the population.

Cr. KYODO NEWS