Senior vice defense minister Yasuhide Nakayama inspected two candidate sites in Osaka on Monday for a state-run center in western Japan as the country seeks to speed up its COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
With Japan lagging behind other advanced countries in its rollout, the government plans to set up large-scale inoculation centers in Tokyo and Osaka to be staffed by Self-Defense Forces doctors and nurses, separately from similar vaccination efforts being made by local municipalities.
Nakayama, who heads the Defense Ministry's headquarters on planning the centers, and Hiroyuki Onishi, parliamentary vice defense minister, visited the two candidate sites -- the prefectural gymnasium and the Osaka International Convention Center.
At the envisioned Osaka vaccination center, the government is considering inoculating not just residents of Osaka but also residents of neighboring Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures. The region has reported high numbers of coronavirus infections in recent weeks.
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura vowed Monday full support for the state-run vaccination center, saying he hopes it will "help deliver vaccines to Osaka residents as soon as possible."
Separately, the government plans to open a large-scale vaccination center on May 24 in a government building in the Otemachi business district in Tokyo that will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday including weekends and national holidays.
On Monday, the Japanese capital, which along with Osaka and its two neighboring prefectures, has been under a state of emergency, reported anther 708 coronavirus infections.
The vaccination centers will exclusively offer Moderna Inc's vaccine, rather than the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc., which is currently used by municipalities across Japan. The Moderna shot has been under review by the health ministry and is expected to get a green light for usage in the country later this month.
Japan began its vaccination program in mid-February, starting with health care workers. Inoculations for those aged 65 and older began in mid-April.
About 900,000 people aged 65 or older residing in the capital and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures, or 10 percent of the elderly in the area, are expected to use the Tokyo center, which will be capable of administering 10,000 shots a day.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said the government aims to finish inoculating the country's 36 million elderly people by the end of July, which would require the rollout to speed up significantly.© KYODO