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COVID-19: Japan opens mass vaccination centres ahead Olympics

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MILITARY doctors and nurses in Japan have been mobilised to vaccinate 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.

  In a statement from the Japanese authourity, the 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 doubts over its possibility by skeptics.

  Worries about public safety while many Japanese remain unvaccinated have prompted growing protests and calls for cancelling the Games set to start on July 23.

  Mr Suga’s government has repeatedly expanded the area and duration of a largely request-based virus state of emergency since late April and has made its virus-fighting measures stricter.

  The mass vaccination centre for people to receive the Moderna coronavirus vaccine opens in Osaka, western Japan (Kyodo News via AP)

  Meanwhile, Tokyo and nine other areas that are home to 40 per cent of the country’s population are said to be under high strain of  COVID-19 which   Mr Suga believes 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 centres staffed by Japan’s Self-Defence 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.

  In hardest-hit Osaka, where patients are overflowing from hospitals, tens of thousands of people are getting sicker or even dying at home, dozens of people lined up before the inoculation centre opened early today.

  According report, patients took taxis or shuttle buses to get to the centre and avoid packed commuter trains.

  People inoculated at the centres today were the first in Japan to receive doses from Modena, one of two foreign-developed vaccines Japan approved on Friday.

  It would be recalled that Japan had previously used only Pfizer, with only about two per cent of the population of 126 million  having received the required two doses.

  Japan began vaccinating healthcare 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 of 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.

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

  “Speeding up the rollout makes us feel safer because it affects our social life and the economy,” said Munemitsu Watanabe, a 71-year-old office worker who got his first shot at the Tokyo centre.

  “If 80-90 per cent of the population gets vaccinated, I think we can hold the Olympics smoothly.”

  Some officials say it may take until around March to reach younger generations but its potential for progress is unclear. 

  The plans for administering AstraZeneca’s shots are still pending due to concerns about the rare instances of blood-clotting complications reported elsewhere.

  Johnson & Johnson applied for an emergency approval for its single-shot vaccine today, and if approved, will be ready for use in early 2022, its pharmaceutical arm, Janssen Pharmaceutical said.

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