Japan Expects 70 Percent of Elderly Population to be COVID Vaccinated by End of August

Japan's drive to vaccinate its population ahead of the 2021 Olympics may be faltering among its young people, but it is on track to fully inoculate its 36 million senior citizens, according to Japanese officials.

The potential of Japan's younger population to spread COVID-19 during summer vacations and the Olympics has Olympic and Japanese officials concerned, especially as the Delta variant grows in dominance, the Associated Press reported.

But at its current pace, the vaccine drive will see 70 percent of elderly people in Japan fully vaccinated by August, while the level of 70 percent of workplace vaccinations will be reached in late November, Mizuho Research & Technologies said in a recent report. If achieved, that would push up Japan's GDP by 1 percent, the report said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

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TOKYO, JAPAN - JUNE 25: People speak to the media after receiving the Moderna coronavirus vaccine in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building on June 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Despite an initially slow start, Japans vaccination drive has increased with around 11 million people now fully vaccinated. The country has also pledged to give one million vaccines each to Taiwan and Vietnam. Rodrigo Reyes Marin-Pool/Getty Images

After months of frustration and delay, Japan has hit the remarkable benchmark of 1 million vaccines a day. But with the Olympics set to start in less than a month, and only a small portion of the country vaccinated, a question lingers: Is it enough?

The vaccination pace is quickening even as the young remain hesitant amid an anti-vaccination misinformation campaign and officials have slowed vaccination reservations as demand outpaces supply.

Add in continued political and bureaucratic bungling and the arrival of highly contagious coronavirus variants, and there are worries that the government's effort to ramp up vaccinations before the Olympics will fall short.

Thousands of private companies and some universities have joined the vaccination drive, complementing the government's effort to prioritize the full vaccination of elderly people by the end of July.

The acceleration is causing worries about a supply shortage, and further progress is now uncertain. Taro Kono, the minister in charge of inoculations, on Wednesday abruptly announced a temporary suspension of many new vaccination reservations, saying vaccine distribution cannot keep pace with demand.

"It's a tightrope situation," Kono said.

Much will depend on whether the nation's young embrace the vaccination program.

A resurgence of cases among the young has already begun in Tokyo, which reported 619 new cases Wednesday, up from the last seven-day average of 405.

The inoculation drive could lose steam if younger people, many of whom believe they are less likely to develop serious symptoms, don't get inoculated. Skeptics are sometimes swayed by rumors and online misinformation about vaccines.

"How we might encourage younger generations to get vaccinated is a big issue," Kono said. Officials plan to reach out to them on social media to provide accurate information.

Despite worries that things will slow again, observers are acknowledging an unexpected turnaround in the vaccine campaign.

Japanese government and Olympic officials, despite their early pledge to hold a "safe and secure" Games without vaccines, accepted the International Olympic Committee's donation of Pfizer doses for participants, while they scramble to accelerate vaccinations of the public.

As recently as early May, only a quarter-million shots were being given daily, with only 2-3 percent of the population fully vaccinated. The pace has since picked up to hit 1 million a day, a target set by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that was once widely considered overly ambitious.

As of Tuesday, about 8.2 percent of the country was fully vaccinated. While impressive here, given the slow rollout, it's still low compared to the U.K.'s 46.3 percent, America's 44.9 percent and the global average of 10 percent, according to Our World in Data.

The workplace vaccination program kicked off Monday. The government has received applications from nearly 4,000 sites run by companies and universities, covering more than 15 million employees, their families and students, the Prime Minister's Office said.

Suga now has a new target of fully vaccinating everyone who wants one by October or November. Officials haven't said when new vaccination reservations may resume, but have noted the overall timeline for the program won't be affected.

Japan's vaccination rollout started with medical workers in mid-February, months behind many other countries. The delay was because of additional clinical testing required for foreign-developed vaccines.

Inoculations for the elderly started in mid-April but were slowed by supply and distribution uncertainties, bungled reservation procedures and a lack of medical workers to give shots.

Japan, still without any home-developed vaccines ready for use, relies on imports. Supply has increased from May, and despite earlier expectations of vaccine hesitancy in general, senior citizens fearing the virus have rushed to get shots.

Since May 24, Japan has opened military-run vaccination sites in Tokyo and Osaka, while local municipalities have established tens of thousands of other centers nationwide.

An array of major retailers, automakers and trading companies have started providing Moderna shots distributed by the government for free for their employees and families.

Anna Hatakeyama, a 26-year-old office worker, said she is getting her first jab next Tuesday as part of her workplace's vaccination efforts. She welcomes the shot, though believes that the rollout is still slow.

"Most of my friends haven't gotten it," she said. "I was lucky that my company will administer vaccines."

To lure younger people, tech giant SoftBank Group Corp. is offering discount tickets to SoftBank Hawks professional baseball games for those who complete vaccinations. The company opened its first inoculation site Monday in Tokyo and aims to set up more by the end of July for as many as 250,000 employees, their families and neighbors.

Japan has had a historic mistrust of vaccines, partly because rare side effects have often been played up by the media. A court ruling that held the government responsible for side effects linked to several vaccines led to the scrapping of mandatory inoculations in the 1990s.

Vaccination officials have also faced protests from skeptical parents opposed to coronavirus inoculations of children aged 12-15 who have recently been added as eligible recipients.

Earlier this month, a Kyoto town office was flooded with calls accusing officials of attempted murder by inoculating children.

Even if vaccinations climb significantly in the coming months, waves of infections could still occur as long as the young are largely unvaccinated, said Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government COVID-19 advisor.

"Though vaccines are very effective, they are not 100 percent, and I believe it will take some time before we can get the infections under control," Omi said. "We have to wait a while before dropping our guard."

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FILE - In this Monday, June 21, 2021, file photo, an employee of the beverage maker Suntory takes a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shot at their office building as the company began its workplace vaccination in Tokyo. After months of delays due to political and bureaucratic bungling as well as a shortage of vaccines, inoculations in Japan are taking off, and the drive is now racing down to the wire with the Olympics starting in one month. Eugene Hoshiko, File/AP Photo