Japanese companies to vaccinate millions of workers against COVID

Tokyo: Thousands of Japanese companies have begun distributing COVID-19 vaccines to workers and their families in an employer-led drive to reach more than 13 million people and rev up the nation’s slow vaccine rollout.

Yuka Daimaru, among the Suntory workers getting the shot on a sprawling office floor, was visibly relieved after spending more than a year worrying about the coronavirus.

“I was nervous, but it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would,” she said. “Now I don’t have to worry as much on commuter trains or at meetings.”

Employees of the beverage maker Suntory register to receive shots of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at their office in Tokyo.Credit:AP

The Tokyo-based beverage maker plans to inoculate 51,500 people, including part-time workers and employees’ families, with the Moderna vaccine.

About 3500 companies have signed up for the free vaccines and that number is growing. The companies must present a plan to inoculate at least 1000 people per site. But they decide whom to include, such as families, affiliate companies and suppliers.

Workplace vaccinations are expected to help Japan reach its goal of a million shots per day by the end of June.Credit:Bloomberg

Universities are also eligible. Smaller companies can apply through organisations, such as the local merchant association, so ideally no one falls through the cracks, according to the Health Ministry.

Workplace vaccinations are expected to help the country reach its goal of a million shots per day by the end of June, vaccine chief Taro Kono told reporters last week.

Among those taking part are major automaker Toyota. It is planning to vaccinate 80,000 people at its plants and offices.

Fast Retailing, the company behind the Uniqlo clothing chain, is inoculating 18,500 people, including part-timers, cleaning and cafeteria staff, starting on July 1.

Online retailer Rakuten said it would vaccinate 60,000 workers and their families.

Company applications for the vaccines are accepted until February.

Japan is relying totally on imported vaccines for a campaign that started last February with medical professionals. Only about 6 per cent of Japanese are fully vaccinated. More than 14,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded.

Vaccinations have been slowed by bungled reservation procedures, unclear distribution plans and shortages of medical staff to give shots.

Local governments and Japan’s self-defence forces are also leading the vaccination campaign, but the employer-led efforts are helping accelerate the pace.

Daisuke Sen, a human resources senior general manager at Suntory Holdings, said the vaccinations at his company would be completed by the end of August.

The first day of the campaign came after weeks of scrambling to find doctors and nurses to carry out the shots, he said.

“Getting here means so much for me,” he said.


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