Although momentum has been slowing building, Japan’s vaccine rollout is still slower than many other developed countries. Government managed centers periodically open for reservations, only to have them fill up in minutes. As a result there is a segment of the population still unable to get a shot that the media has dubbed “vaccine refugees.”
But now help has arrived from an unexpected source: pachinko and slot machine emporium Freedom in Osaka’s Kita Ward.
These types of quasi-gambling establishments came under fire early in the pandemic when some pachinko parlors refused to close during the first state of emergency. Although their stubbornness was eventually vindicated by an absence of pachinko-related clusters, the negative PR has lingered.
Freedom has now taken an even more active approach by partnering with nearby Kano General Hospital to provide its large venue for mass vaccinations. On Aug 17, Freedom tweeted that it would begin accepting reservations until Sept 12 for two days in September and and two in October for the first and second doses respectively.
▼ The ad says that a membership card is needed, but Freedom later clarified that non-members can also make a reservation.
As of this writing about 500 of the 1,500 spots have been filled and the Moderna vaccine is being offered. Freedom’s parent company Avance originally contacted the government for a workplace vaccination program that was also open to 2,000 members of the local community in July. When they got no reply, they instead turned to Kano Hospital directly for this current program which is not only open to employees and local residents, but anyone with a valid vaccination voucher even from outside Osaka.
On the day of the vaccinations, visitors will each sit in front of a machine and medical staff will walk up and down the aisles administering the vaccine to each person. The venue already has adequate ventilation set up and will be regularly sterilized according to workplace vaccination guidelines.
The isolated seating style and ventilation of pachinko parlors has been credited for their relative lack of infections.
This is possibly the first time a pachinko parlor has been used in such a way, so naturally announcement was met with several inquiries and complements.
“I was banned 10 years ago. Can I still get a vaccine?”
“I have a baby that I can’t leave at home. Can I bring it inside?”
“This is a great initiative! Thank you!”
“Can I come from Hyogo?”
“Very nice way to give back to the community!”
Freedom replied to some questions saying that on the day of vaccinations, the pachinko parlor is technically closed. This means that banned customers and people under the age of 18 will be allowed inside the building on these days only. However, the vaccines themselves will only be administered to people 18 and up. Also, reservations must be made in person at the front counter of the parlor, which also might pose some problems for restricted people, but Freedom seems willing to accommodate them in this instance.
As for pregnancies, everyone would be better off consulting a medical expert than a slot machine management company. Still, it’s not often you her “pachinko” and “public health” in the same breath, so let’s savor this moment before yet another cherished cultural icon is co-opted into a gambling machine.
Source: Maidona News, Twitter/@p_s_freedom
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