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COVID vaccines

Japan to kick off workplace vaccinations with 50m doses

Toyota, Sony consider launching their own drives for employees

Elderly residents of Tokyo wait to receive their first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.   © AP

TOKYO -- Japan will start vaccinating the general public starting June 21, enlisting companies and universities to administer the shots using 50 million surplus doses it expects to have by the end of the month.

Doctors working at companies' in-house clinics will be authorized to give shots to employees. Toyota Motor, which has 70,000 employees, told Nikkei that it is considering launching its own vaccination program.

Japan so far has prioritized vaccinating health care workers and the elderly. But with the country set to receive 50 million more doses than it needs for those two groups by the end of June, the government aims to start giving shots to those aged 64 to 12 with the help of school and corporate medics.

Japan’s health ministry told municipalities to use the Moderna shot for vaccinations at universities and corporations. Recipients will not need to present a ticket issued by their local municipalities, which is currently required to receive a vaccine.

Japan has been receiving increased vaccine shipments since May. It is set to receive 100 million doses from Pfizer by the end of June and another 40 million doses from Moderna -- more than enough to vaccinate the country's 5 million medical workers and 36 million individuals aged 65 and above.

"We are going to see a further increase in shipments around mid-June," a top government official said. Japan aims to secure enough doses to vaccinate its entire population by the end of September.

Of Japanese businesses with more than 1,000 workers, roughly 1,900 employ doctors full-time and about 140,000 do part-time. Many already administer the flu vaccine to employees and are expected to be able to roll out the coronavirus vaccine smoothly as well.

The government is hoping to have these businesses vaccinate their employees and their families, and have universities vaccinate their staff and students. Each organization will be given latitude to decide who exactly to administer doses to.

Many companies have already commenced preparations. East Japan Railway said it will consider "using its medical facilities to vaccinate employees" while Rakuten Group said it is "ready to kick off vaccinations as soon as it receives the necessary information from the government."

Others weighing their own vaccination drives include Nippon Yusen, Japan Airlines, Sony Group, Komatsu, Itochu, Seven & i Holdings, and Mitsubishi Chemical.

"It would be efficient to vaccinate workers during their annual exams, so they don't have to take time off," said Masayoshi Matsumoto, CEO of Sumitomo Electric Industries and chair of the Kansai Economic Federation. The government will urge smaller businesses without full-time medics to coordinate vaccination efforts through local chambers of commerce.

Coronavirus vaccinations are currently being administered at locally managed sites, or the nationally supervised locations staffed by the Self-Defense Forces. But some municipalities have struggled to keep up with the increase in supply due to a shortage of staff, delayed deliveries from ultracold storage facilities to vaccination sites, and other logistical hurdles.

As of Monday, 9.77 million people across Japan had received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 95.6% of health care workers and 13.9% of the elderly.

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