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Drive to vaccinate under-65s starts in Japan as local gov'ts set own priorities

A mass vaccination site in the Marine Messe Fukuoka Hall B in the city of Fukuoka's Hakata Ward is seen on June 7, 2021, the day Fukuoka began priority COVID-19 inoculations for child care workers. (Mainichi/Akihiko Tsuchida)

COVID-19 vaccinations for individuals aged 64 or below have begun in some parts of Japan, with local governments setting their own "priority slots" for child care workers, teachers and other groups.

    The vaccinations for younger people come as inoculations for the elderly is kicking into gear. Full-scale vaccinations are also set to start at universities and companies from June 21.

    The city of Fukuoka has been conducting its own priority vaccinations since May 28, targeting nursing care workers at facilities for the elderly, day care center and preschool employees. The local government has extended the hours of a mass vaccination site at a conventions center until 10 p.m.

    Vaccinations for senior citizens will continue to be conducted until 5 p.m. as usual, while nighttime inoculations are for the city's own priority slots. The system was devised so that people of working age in acute need of the jabs can get them without delay, on the same time frame as the elderly. The system has merits for child care workers and others who can get the shots after work.

    "I was worried I'd infect the children. As I can come in after work, nighttime vaccinations are helpful," said a relieved Takeshi Tsurui, 36, who got his first shot on June 7, the day that vaccinations for child care workers commenced. Being a child care worker, which involves carrying children and helping them during meals, means being in close contact.

    Katsunobu Abe, 55, the deputy director of the Fukuoka municipal child care association, said, "During the state of emergency in April last year, day care centers were generally open even if preschools, elementary schools and junior high schools were temporarily closed. Our job is to protect children's lives, so I'm thankful for the priority vaccinations."

    A mass vaccination site in the Marine Messe Fukuoka Hall B in the city of Fukuoka's Hakata Ward is seen on June 7, 2021, the day Fukuoka began priority COVID-19 inoculations for child care workers. (Mainichi/Akihiko Tsuchida)

    The Fukuoka Municipal Government will also start administering priority vaccines to teachers and other school staff from June 21. By using reservation slots not taken by the elderly, vaccinations for municipal government staff and fire brigade members involved in running evacuation shelters are also set for June, ahead of typhoon disaster season.

    Priority vaccine rollouts for those including child care workers and teachers have become more common among local governments across Japan, including in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. The ancient Japanese capital of Nara, where the chief industry is tourism, plans to add bus and taxi drivers as well as hotel workers to the list of those eligible for priority vaccines, in addition to child care workers. Municipalities have been taking measures that reflect local circumstances.

    The national government has decided to inoculate health care workers, senior citizens aged 65 or older, and individuals with preexisting conditions as well as staff at elderly care facilities, in this order, and is aiming to get needles in the arms of everyone aged 65-plus by the end of July. As long as local governments follow this plan, the central government plans to approve flexible vaccination schedules including priority slots.

    "How they will proceed with vaccinations is left to the discretion of each local government. I'd like them to move forward with inoculations while gaining the understanding of residents," said a senior health ministry official.

    Amid such moves, there have also been local governments prioritizing vaccines for younger people. Tokyo's Suginami Ward has given second priority to individuals aged 12 to 39, following those aged between 60 and 64, when accepting reservations. The move appears to have been triggered by the rise in the ratio of infections among the young. A ward government representative explained, "Those aged in their 20s and 30s make up over half of the ward's total infections, and we thought it necessary to hold early vaccinations to curb transmissions."

    As for teenagers, the official said that the local government has added the group to those eligible for priority vaccines "to enable them to get inoculated during summer break." A mass vaccination site in the capital's Shinjuku Ward will also prioritize people in their 20s and 30s.

    The Aichi Prefecture town of Togo is prioritizing inoculations for third-year high school students. The town initially planned to conduct vaccinations in descending order by age, and cover third-year high school students last in around September or October. But it changed its plans so that the students could be done with the shots during summer break, and devote themselves to studying for entrance exams or job hunting. The town will distribute vaccine vouchers to its third-year high school students following residents aged 60 to 64, and to high school graduates who are retaking entrance exams, if they apply.

    (Japanese original by Akihiko Tsuchida, Kyushu News Department and Ai Yokota, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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