Japan opens mass vaccination centers 2 months before Games

Japan mobilized military doctors and nurses to give shots to elderly people in Tokyo and Osaka as the government desperately tries to accelerate its vaccination rollout and curb coronavirus infections just two months before hosting the Olympics

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% of the population of 126 million has received the required two doses.

Vaccinations for the next group — the elderly, who are more likely to suffer serious COVID-19 effects — started in mid-April but has been slwed by bureaucratic bumbling including reservation procedures, unclear distribution plans and shortage of medical staff to give shots.

Completion of Japan-developed vaccines is still uncertain, but Japanese government officials hope the approvals Friday of Moderna and AstraZeneca will help speed up the rollout.

Progress is still unclear because of the dire shortage of medical staff who can give shots while they are already busy treating COVID-19 patients. AstraZeneca’s plans are also pending due to concerns about its rare blood-clotting in a country known for low confidence in vaccines.

Separately, several local governments, including Aichi in central Japan and Gunma near Tokyo and Miyagi in the north, were also to open their own large vaccination centers on Monday.

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