65% of municipalities to start booster shots for elderly this month

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Elderly residents wait to receive their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a venue in Fukuoka City on Jan. 5.

About two-thirds of Japan’s major municipalities will move up their third round of COVID-19 vaccinations for the general elderly so as to begin inoculations by the end of this month, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

In the survey to assess the situation as of Friday, 48 of 74 municipalities (65%) — comprised of prefectural capitals, Tokyo’s 23 wards and major regional cities — responded they would start the rollout of booster shots for that age group by the end of January. At least 18 had already gotten started by Friday.

The general elderly are defined as those aged 65 and older while excluding those living in nursing facilities.

The remaining 26 municipalities responded that they would get started in February. Many local governments are accelerating their vaccination campaigns in response to a request by the central government to do so.

Initially, the policy for booster shots was to administer them “in principle eight months or more after having received a second dose.” As many municipalities were able to start second doses for their general elderly in earnest last June, that meant a start for booster shots ostensibly in February.

However, with the sudden surge in infections due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant, the central government began from December last year to repeatedly call on local authorities to push up the vaccination schedule.

All of Tokyo’s 23 wards will have started the booster shots by the end of this month. The metropolitan government has made available to local governments vaccines that it has kept stored which were originally for first and second doses at mass vaccination sites.

Meguro ward used such reserves to begin administering third doses to its general elderly on Thursday — about a month earlier than initially planned. The ward, which had five vaccination sites for the second dose, increased the number to eight as it aims to have the target population of 48,500 completely vaccinated by the end of February.

The Osaka city government, which is looking to inoculate about 459,000 elderly residents, will make use of a stock of about 290,000 doses and begin administering booster shots on Jan. 20, also a month earlier than initially planned.

In Saitama City, vaccinations began on Friday after being pushed up from the planned start of Feb. 1. The city government is utilizing reservation slots that have gone unfilled at three vaccination venues for medical workers and others.

The central government has also requested that local governments to bring forward the third round of vaccinations for people under 65.

“We want to work with local governments to speed up the pace to make sure that those who wish to get vaccinated can do so as soon as possible,” Noriko Horiuchi, the minister in charge of vaccinations, said at a press conference on Friday after a Cabinet meeting.