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Japan local gov'ts to dump large stocks of almost expired Moderna COVID vaccine

Moderna Inc. COVID-19 vaccine syringes are seen in this file photo. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

YOKOHAMA -- Multiple municipal governments in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo will likely soon have to throw out large stocks of Moderna Inc. COVID-19 vaccine as the doses near their expiration dates.

    Low booster shot uptake is thought to be behind the vaccine surplus, particularly among young people, as well as the large number of residents opting for the Pfizer Inc. vaccine.

    According to the Yokohama Municipal Government, as of May 16 it had 54,000 Moderna shots for its mass vaccination centers and other locations expiring no later than June 10. A city official explained, "At this rate, it will be difficult to use them all, and some of them will have to be disposed of."

    In January and February 2022, when third shots became available to the public at large, city authorities could not decide how much of the vaccine stock the city would get from the national government. In early February, the city received some 123,000 Moderna doses set to expire on May 28, and around 80,400 doses that will expire on June 10.

    As of December 2021, over 70% of Yokohama residents had got two vaccine shots. The city official said they thought that the booster shot stock that expires May 28 would be used up in March.

    However, vaccination rates for the third shot were much lower than expected, standing at around 5% in February. There was a period when Yokohama had the worst vaccination rate of any major Japanese city. While vaccination rates improved after the city increased mass vaccination opportunities, booster shot uptake did not rise among young people, and as of May 20, the rate for people in their 20s and 30s remains at around 40%.

    The city of Kawasaki may also dump some 27,000 doses expiring on June 10, while the city of Odawara expects to discard a total of 13,305 doses set to expire by May 23.

    One reason observers point to for the low booster uptake is the increasingly relaxed attitude of the public as the pandemic drags on. Furthermore, young people, especially, are less likely to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms with the omicron variant compared to the earlier delta variant, and this seems to be leading to people letting their guards down.

    Furthermore, side effects cases including heart muscle and tissue inflammation were more commonly reported after inoculations with Moderna vaccines compared to Pfizer vaccines. Observers believe that people are avoiding Moderna shots over side effect worries.

    (Japanese original by Nao Ikeda, Yokohama Bureau)

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