TOKYO - Japan opened large-scale state-run coronavirus vaccination centers on Monday in Tokyo and Osaka in a bid to accelerate the country's inoculation program that has lagged behind other developed countries and fueled concerns about the plan to hold the Olympics in the capital in two months.
The centers, run by the Self-Defense Forces, will operate for three months from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. including weekends and national holidays. They will use the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. of the United States, which was approved by the government on Friday.
Japan hopes the venues, aiming to inoculate up to 10,000 people a day in Tokyo and 5,000 in Osaka, will help meet its target to complete vaccinations by the end of July of people aged 65 or older, along with those turning 65 in the current fiscal year. The Tokyo Olympics will open July 23.
Elderly people living in Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa as well as in Osaka and nearby Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures are eligible for inoculations at the state-run centers, provided they have not already received a vaccine shot.
But to avoid causing the reservation system to be overwhelmed, the first week of vaccinations at the centers is restricted to residents of Tokyo's 23 wards and the city of Osaka.
At a government building in the Otemachi business district in Tokyo, 30 to 40 elderly people began gathering from around 7:30 a.m. for vaccinations.
"It did not hurt and was over quickly," said a 66-year-old woman from Suginami Ward in Tokyo. She said she decided to get a shot at the mass venue because she did not want to wait until her initially-reserved first shot scheduled for late June.
The slots -- 49,000 at the Tokyo site and 24,500 at the Osaka venue -- were quickly filled after the Defense Ministry started accepting reservations on May 17 on its website and via the Line messaging app.
From May 31, slots for one week through June 6 will be available for online reservation for the elderly living in the rest of Tokyo and Osaka prefectures.
Some local governments separately plan to set up their own large vaccination sites. The prefectures of Aichi and Miyagi opened their venues Monday, aiming to inoculate up to 3,000 elderly and 2,100 residents a day, respectively.
Japan's vaccination program started in February with health care workers and later expanded to the elderly, the latter group totaling about 36 million people. But only around 4 percent of the country's population of 126 million has received at least one dose.
The inoculations have been conducted by local governments using the vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE.
Some SDF doctors and nurses as well as private nurses who run the vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka became the first recipients of Moderna shots in Japan on Sunday, the Defense Ministry said.
Even if the two state-run venues operate at full capacity for the scheduled three months, only 900,000 in Tokyo and 450,000 in Osaka can complete vaccinations, around 10 percent of the targeted elderly population.