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Japan to lower minimum age to 16 at state-run vaccination sites

Elderly people are seen entering the large-scale coronavirus vaccination center opened on the morning of May 24, 2021 at Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo (Mainichi/Hiroshi Maruyama)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's state-run mass COVID-19 inoculation centers will begin giving shots to people aged 16 and over from next month, the Defense Ministry said Friday, lowering the minimum age from 18 amid the spread of the virus among younger people.

    The move by the centers in Tokyo and Osaka, which the Self-Defense Forces run, comes as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus leads to more infections among children.

    At the Tokyo site, 500 slots per day will be reserved for those between the ages of 16 to 18, while the Osaka site will set aside 250 slots. Reservations will be accepted from Oct. 3, with vaccinations commencing on Oct. 7.

    The slots, to be added to the existing 10,000 and 5,000 slots available per day in Tokyo and Osaka, respectively, can also be booked by those over 18 if there are vacancies.

    The vaccination sites use U.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna Inc.'s two-dose vaccine, approved for people aged 12 and older.

    Those aged 16 and older in Japan do not need parental permission or to be accompanied by parents or guardians to receive the shots.

    The centers were previously scheduled to end operation at the end of September, but the government decided earlier this month to continue giving shots at the sites through late November amid a surge of COVID-19 cases among younger generations.

    They will resume offering the first dose of the vaccine between Sunday and late October.

    More than 50 percent of Japan's population of 125 million has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to government data. The government plans to finish vaccinating all eligible people who wish to receive shots by November.

    Health minister Norihisa Tamura said Friday that the COVID-19 state of emergency covering Tokyo and 18 other prefectures will likely be lifted in most areas at the end of the month, provided the current downtrend continues.

    Nationwide infections peaked at around 25,000 per day in August and have steadily declined since, with 2,093 new cases reported on Friday.

    In October, the government plans to experiment with easing restrictions in selected areas to see if proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results required for venue entry can be checked smoothly.

    Thirteen prefectures, including Osaka, Hokkaido and Okinawa, have already applied to participate in the dry run, and the number could rise in the future, Tamura said.

    "If the state of emergency is lifted, we would like to conduct the trial in those areas as a start," he said.

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