Navy hospital in Japan begins next phase of coronavirus vaccinations

A sailor records the moment he was vaccinated against COVID-19 with a selfie at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Dec. 26, 2020.


By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 5, 2021

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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The naval hospital at the home of the 7th Fleet began the next phase of coronavirus inoculations Tuesday by vaccinating a group it designated “highest priority fleet personnel.”

The move indicates progress toward vaccinating everyone at Yokosuka Naval Base against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

“While vaccine remains in extremely limited supply, we are excited to transition to [phase] 1b and begin administering vaccine to the highest priority fleet personnel today!” the Yokosuka Naval Hospital wrote on its Facebook page Tuesday. 

Six U.S. installations in Japan, including Yokosuka, received about 8,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine Dec. 26 and began vaccinating phase 1a personnel: health-care providers, first responders and security forces.

Yokosuka was the only one of the six to report moving past the first phase of inoculations. Spokespeople at Camp Zama, Naval Hospital Okinawa, Misawa Air Base and Yokota Air Base said Tuesday they have not yet moved into phase 1b.

A representative for Kadena Air Base on Okinawa could not be reached Tuesday.

Tuesday marked the first day that sailors and civilians outside frontline roles were eligible for the vaccine at Yokosuka. Subjects must volunteer to be inoculated because the Moderna vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use.

The Defense Department prioritized its vaccine distribution according to a phased sequence set out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After phase 1a comes phase 1b, a three-part category that covers “other essential workers.”

That includes personnel involved with “critical national capabilities,” followed by personnel preparing to deploy outside the continental U.S. and, finally, “other critical and essential support personnel.”

The remaining population of service members, civilian workers and families are the end of the line, although those with a heightened risk for coronavirus are ahead of those deemed healthy. Chief Master Sgt. Richard Winegardner Jr., U.S. Forces Japan chief enlisted leader, on Dec. 23 said the vaccine should be generally available by mid-2021 or earlier. USFJ has a population of about 110,000 individuals, he said Dec. 29.

Several base residents at Yokosuka posted questions to the hospital announcement, asking whether high-risk subjects would be notified when their turn came or what defines “highest priority fleet personnel.”

A hospital public affairs spokesperson did not respond by close of business Tuesday to emails and phone calls from Stars and Stripes for further information.

Stars and Stripes reporter Erica Earl contributed to this report.

Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos