Japan opens 2 mass vaccination sites in bid to inoculate all over-65s before Tokyo Olympics

Japan has set up two venues with the capacity to vaccinate thousands of people a day as the country rushes to boost its coronavirus immunization campaign two months before the Tokyo Olympic Games begin.

According to the Japan Times, doctors will be able to vaccinate up to 10,000 people per day in a venue in Tokyo, and up to 5,000 per day in Osaka. The centers, run by Japan's Self-Defense Forces, will be open every day for three months as Japan hopes to vaccinate all people over 65 by the end of July.

The mass immunization centers will use the Moderna vaccine, which was approved by the government on Friday. Before then, Japan was inoculating people with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The emergency use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine also got the green light late last week.  

A poll by Kyodo News has shown that 28 of the country’s prefectures and large cities are either planning or considering opening large-scale vaccination sites to boost the immunization of the older population ahead of the Games. Around 90% of those local governments will use the Moderna vaccine. 

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said earlier this month that he wants to ramp up immunization to 1 million shots administered per day, which would roughly mean tripling the current pace, according to Japanese media reports. 

Taro Kono, a government minister in charge of the vaccination campaign, blamed the country's regulator for the slow vaccine rollout. “Even though we are in a state of crisis, we’re still using the same rules to approve vaccines that we do under normal times,” he told TBS TV channel last week.

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Apart from opening new vaccination sites, the government is considering other ways to expand the campaign, including allowing pharmacies to administer the Covid-19 shots. 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which were canceled last year due to the pandemic, are set to kick off on July 23. The sporting event will be held with Covid-19 precautions and without overseas spectators.   

International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates reiterated last week that the Games can be held even if Tokyo remains under its state of emergency, which expires on May 31 and may be extended. Coates’ comments were criticized on social media, with some Japanese users arguing people's health should not be “sacrificed” for the Olympics.

A nationwide poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper revealed that 43% of respondents said the Games should be canceled and 40% said the event should be postponed. The polling was conducted over the phone on May 15-16 and involved 1,527 people. 

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