The Japanese government is considering allowing elderly people nationwide to book coronavirus vaccinations at two state-run mass inoculation centers in Tokyo and Osaka, government sources said Thursday.
The venues run by Self-Defense Forces personnel currently accept bookings from Tokyo, Osaka and neighboring prefectures but many slots have been left vacant even though the government is trying to accelerate the country's inoculation drive.
The move comes as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday he aims to finish vaccinating Japan's population against COVID-19 by November. The government is planning to keep the venues open beyond the initially-set end date of late August to achieve that end, with the Tokyo venue already set for an extension.
The government is expected to make a decision soon on when to start accepting reservations from other parts of Japan, as Tokyo and Osaka are currently under a state of emergency.
"We want to reach a conclusion as soon as possible and utilize this valuable opportunity for vaccinations," top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told a press conference.
"Vaccinations are a decisive measure against infectious diseases," he said when asked how the system could be expanded at a time when the government is urging the public to refrain from traveling across prefectures.
According to the Defense Ministry, the Tokyo and Osaka venues have about 113,000 and 48,000 slots available, respectively, as of Thursday morning for reservations from next Monday through June 27.
The government will also consider having officials of the National Police Agency, Fire and Disaster Management Agency and Japan Coast Guard fill the vacant slots, the sources said.
Currently, elderly people living in the capital and the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa as well as in Osaka and nearby Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures are eligible for inoculations at the centers.
Japan aims to complete the vaccination of those aged 65 or older, as well those turning 65 this fiscal year, by the end of July, but the country's vaccination effort is lagging far behind other developed countries such as Britain and the United States.
About 4 percent of Japan's population of 125 million had been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.© KYODO