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Tokyo city's COVID-19 vaccine slots fill up in 90 mins as residents far outnumber doses

The first-floor lobby of Hachioji City Hall, which will serve as a vaccination center in the suburban Tokyo city, is seen on April 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Megumi Nokura)

TOKYO -- First-come first-served slots opening April 5 for some 1,900 doses of the coronavirus vaccine filled in just over 90 minutes in the suburban Tokyo city of Hachioji, one of the capital municipalities starting senior citizen vaccinations on April 12.

    The Hachioji Municipal Government accepted appointments for the first shots via phone and internet. The 1,900 doses were made available to the city's around 160,000 residents aged 65 and older, and slots filled up a little over 90 minutes after the municipal government's appointment hotline and website opened at 9 a.m. That same afternoon, the city's public health center was flooded with inquiries as to when residents unable to make appointments could get vaccinated.

    "It was over before I could get through," said Hiroshi Maeno, 72, who works renting out a building near JR Hachioji Station. He tried to make an appointment on the website using both his smartphone and computer, but had difficulty accessing it.

    He added, "I've been seeing more people out in busy areas, and some young people drinking on outdoor benches after 8 p.m. I'll wait for the next appointment slots while staying cautious and following prevention measures."

    From March 29, the Hachioji government began sending out vaccine vouchers to eligible residents. While the city considered a rollout prioritizing age or people living in senior homes, the first batch for distribution to the older population was small, so it decided to accept first-come, first-serve appointments to "ensure fairness." According to Hachioji Mayor Takayuki Ishimori, the city has many senior facilities and people in them are not necessarily Hachioji residents.

    A public health center representative said, "It was hard to get through (the phone line and the website) as few slots were available. But I've been told that vaccine distribution will increase in future."

    Meanwhile, in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward where the first vaccine rollout for elderly residents will also begin April 12, vouchers will be sent out to people aged 75 and older starting late April. As of Feb. 1, the ward had about 174,000 elderly residents eligible to receive the vaccine, excluding residents at senior homes. Distribution of vaccine vouchers for residents aged 65 to 74 is expected in early May.

    According to the ward office, about 1,000 shots are scheduled to arrive by the end of the week. The office plans to start administering vaccines first to the 12,000 residents at senior homes in the ward and to some of their staff.

    The vaccine rollout for Setagaya's elderly residents not living in senior homes is expected to gain speed from mid-May or later. Residents who have received vouchers and pre-examination slips from the ward office will have to choose a vaccine center or designated medical institution, and make an appointment on the phone or the internet. They need to bring their voucher, pre-examination slip and valid ID to get inoculated.

    (Japanese original by Megumi Nokura, Hachioji Bureau, and Shohei Kato, Tokyo Bureau)

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