(Adds U.S. State Department urging against Japan travel)
TOKYO, May 24 (Reuters) - Japan opened mass inoculation centres on Monday as it races to vaccinate most of its elderly population before the start of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23.
The centres in Tokyo and Osaka will vaccinate thousands of people every day, giving a boost to Japan’s sluggish inoculation drive as the country battles a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.
“It’s better to get it early,” said Tetsuya Urano, 66, who was among the first to be vaccinated in the capital Tokyo. “It went pretty smoothly, all in all.”
Just 4.4% of Japan’s population of 125 million have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Reuters’ global tracker, the slowest rate among the world’s larger, rich countries.
The U.S. State Department on Monday urged against visiting Japan, adding it to a list of countries with a “Do Not Travel” designation.
The Tokyo inoculation facility will operate 12 hours a day to dispense shots to 10,000 people daily for the next three months. The site in Osaka, Japan’s western metropolis, will build up to about 5,000 shots a day.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called for the centres last month to speed up the vaccination rollout. Large-scale inoculation sites operated by local governments also opened in the prefectures of Aichi, Miyagi, and Gunma.
The fourth wave of infections has led authorities to declare states of emergency covering much of the country, including Tokyo, raising some concerns about the Olympic Games due to begin on July 23.
The states of emergency for most regions are due to end on May 31, though the government is leaning towards extending the measures, several people with knowledge of the decision told Reuters.
Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, whose region has been among the hardest hit in the current wave, told reporters he would decide on whether to request an extension of the emergency on Tuesday.
Japan began its inoculation push in mid-February, later than most major economies. The campaign was slowed initially by scant supplies of imported doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE.
But even as shipments increased, the rollout has been hampered by manpower shortages and malfunctions in the reservation system.
The mass vaccination centres for the elderly are using Moderna Inc’s vaccine, which was approved on Friday, along with AstraZeneca PLC’s shot.
On Monday, Johnson & Johnson said it had filed for regulatory approval of its one-shot vaccine and it could begin supplying the country in early 2022.
Reporting by Rocky Swift and Yoshifumi Takemoto; Editing by Jane Wardell, Giles Elgood and David Clarke