People aged 65 and older became eligible to receive the vaccine on April 12, following inoculations for healthcare workers. This segment represents one third of Japan's population. In a press conference last Friday, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said the government hopes to administer one million doses a day and complete inoculations for elderly people who want the vaccine by the end of July.
Data released on Monday shows that less than one percent of the elderly had received first doses by May 9, or approximately 330,000 people.
But there are signs that the rollout is starting to gain steam. The Suga administration is expected to deliver nearly 19 million doses to local governments over the next two weeks. On May 20, it will decide whether to approve both the AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines. Japan has so far only authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. And government officials are planning to open large-scale vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka on May 24.
Not enough medical staff
But shortages of venues and medical workers remain significant obstacles to a successful rollout. According to a survey conducted by The National Governors' Association, all 47 prefectures say they don't have enough staff able to work vaccination sites, and 40 say an inoculation campaign would prove disruptive to regular medical services.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu says the internal affairs ministry will set up a coronavirus vaccine regional support task force to speed up the inoculation drive.
Suga's disapproval rate rises
In an NHK opinion poll conducted over the weekend, only 9 percent of respondents said they believe the vaccine campaign is going smoothly, while 82 percent said they believe the progress is too slow. Only 33 percent of respondents had a positive view of the government's overall pandemic response, while 63 percent said they have a negative view.
The approval rating for the Suga Cabinet has fallen to 35 percent, its lowest point since the administration took office last September. This figure is down 9 points from last month. The disapproval rating rose 5 points to 43 percent.
NHK randomly selected 2,092 people aged 18 and older for the telephone survey, with 1,248 responding.