Japanese Local Governments Going Extra Mile To Get Shots Into Arms

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At the entrance to a mass vaccination site in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, posters on the wall declared “Vaccination available without appointment” and “Non-ward residents OK.”

“I’m grateful that I could just walk in and get vaccinated when I had some free time,” said Masatoshi Hasegawa in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, which borders the ward.

The 43-year-old company employee was among a stream of people who filled the vaccination site at a community center from early morning on Wednesday. On that day alone, 72 people were vaccinated without an appointment.

Local municipalities across Japan are pulling out the stops as they try to push up coronavirus vaccination rates in line with the government’s aim of having all residents who want the shots to get both doses by the earliest days in November.

Through such measures as abolishing the need for appointments, they are able to gradually draw more of the unvaccinated out of the woodwork.

In Adachi Ward, the vaccination rate has steadily risen, with 80.9% of residents having received one shot and 75.6% fully inoculated as of Thursday. As a result, the mass vaccination program is scheduled to be ended for the time being on Nov. 21.

From Oct. 21, the ward started allowing vaccinations for walk-ins and for non-ward residents. “We want the vaccination program to be widely used in the short time remaining,” the ward said.

In regard to opening the doors to non-residents, a ward official said it would benefit all parties. “Encouraging residents from surrounding areas to also get vaccinated can boost effectiveness in preventing the spread of infections,” the official said.

■ Reaching out

By early October, the central government finished supplying enough vaccine to cover two doses for 90% of all residents aged 12 and over. As of Wednesday, 70.87% of the total population, including health care workers, had received both shots.

However, the levels of progress have varied among the prefectures, and local governments with low vaccination rates are grappling with how to draw out the unvaccinated and get them on board.

The Okayama prefectural government is looking to start booster shots as early as December, but fears that it could make it more difficult for the unvaccinated to book an appointment for their first shot.

To encourage the unvaccinated to get their shots before then, the prefectural government designated Oct. 15 to 31 as the “last spurt period.” Among steps to be taken is setting up a vaccination site this Sunday at a stadium in Okayama City to coincide with J.League second-division club Fagiano Okayama’s home match that day.

The city of Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture, sent postcards to about 15,000 unvaccinated people to urge them to get inoculated. When the vaccination rate for both doses reached nearly 90%, the city put its mass vaccination program on hold in early October.

However, following requests from residents who had been unable to get vaccinated because of health problems or work commitments, the city opened up additional spots, for which about 2,100 people applied.

“It seems many people had become alarmed when the ‘fifth wave’ of coronavirus infections hit the nation,” a Joetsu government official said.

■ Young people holding back

One problem common across the country is the sluggish vaccination rate among young people. According to government statistics, only about 60% of people in their 20s or 30s have been vaccinated.

To make it easier for young people to get vaccinated, the government of Tokyo’s Koto Ward spent about ¥9 million to get a “vaccine bus” up and running.

Every weekend starting Oct. 23, the mobile site stops in front of three commercial complexes in the ward, and anyone can step in and get vaccinated without an appointment or voucher.

From November, many local governments will start closing or scaling down their mass vaccination sites. Koto Ward plans to reduce its sites from the current six to three.

“The mass vaccination sites were set up at sports and other public facilities, and many people have said they want to use these facilities again for their original purpose,” a ward official said. “I urge people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

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