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US bases in Japan await word on putting Johnson & Johnson vaccine back to work

Vials of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine were ready to be administered at Naval Hospital Okinawa on April 13, 2021.

MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOSEPH DITZLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 27, 2021

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TOKYO – The U.S. military in Japan reported another six people, all in Okinawa, had contracted the coronavirus as of 6 p.m. Tuesday.

As coronavirus case numbers fall to single digits at its bases, U.S. Forces Japan expects to put the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine back into circulation now that federal authorities and the Pentagon have cleared it for use.

Meanwhile, Japan’s two largest cities reported more than 2,000 new coronavirus patients – 828 in Tokyo and 1,231 in Osaka prefecture – according to public broadcaster NHK. It was Osaka’s second-highest one-day new patient count during the pandemic thus far. Another 14 people died in the prefecture, the second-largest metro area in Japan.

Tokyo, Osaka prefecture and two of its neighboring prefectures are in states of emergency with stiff measures aimed at preventing the virus’ continued spread during the Golden Week holiday that starts Thursday and ends May 5. The nine rail lines in Tokyo announced reduced schedules for the holiday, NHK reported Tuesday.

On Okinawa, Kadena Air Base said six people have tested positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus respiratory disease, since Friday, according to a base Facebook post. Four were already quarantined after recent travel outside of Japan; the remaining two were close contacts of a previously identified coronavirus patient.

One of those two patients is a Kadena commissary employee, according to the Facebook post.

Since March 30, Kadena has reported four commissary employees have contracted COVID-19. Each time, the base reports that it has thoroughly cleaned and sanitized the affected work areas. In the March case, the base said the person had no contact with customers.

On Tuesday, the base said public health authorities have completed contact tracing and an unspecified number of close contacts were quarantined.

Also Tuesday, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan said the command is ready to put its supply of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to use as soon as it receives further instructions from higher headquarters.

“(W)e are awaiting further guidance regarding the re-institution of the J&J vaccine in Japan and any stipulations there may be with it,” Marine Staff Sgt. Jonathan Wright said in an email Tuesday to Stars and Stripes.

“During this time, installations continue to offer the Moderna vaccine and have continued with inoculations per individual installation supplies and schedules. When guidance is received it will be reviewed and any specific points that need further clarification will be addressed before disseminating to the component commands.”

A spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea, which also received supplies of the J&J vaccine, did not reply to an email inquiry from Stars and Stripes on Tuesday.

The Defense Department plans to put the shot into play again later this week, primarily at bases overseas, where it shipped 100,000 doses before the J&J vaccine was put on hold April 14, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday in Washington, D.C.

“DOD will ensure all recipients of the vaccine are aware of all known side effects and potential risks before they receive it,” he said.

Two federal agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, recommended pausing use of the vaccine after six people out of more than 6 million inoculated with it developed extremely rare but severe blood clots.

The FDA and CDC on Friday said they reviewed those cases and recommended resuming use of the vaccine. They prepared a factsheet for caregivers and recipients outlining the vaccine risks.

In Japan, where U.S. bases relied predominantly on the two-shot Moderna vaccine, the J&J pause nonetheless created delays. At Misawa Air Base, the hold meant a shot clinic scheduled April 16 to administer 1,900 doses was canceled.

Meanwhile, the base obtained a supply of Moderna vaccine and administered it at a shot clinic Tuesday, a base spokesman said that day.

“We will resume the administration of Johnson and Johnson vaccines after we receive further guidance and approval to do so here in Japan,” Maj. Cody Chiles said in an email. “Public Health issued more than 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Department of Defense beneficiaries at Misawa AB today.”

A spokesman for Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo repeated the message posted Monday on the base Facebook page stating the base awaits further guidance on how to proceed.

“We will make a public notification once we have full clarification,” Lt. Stuart Thrift said in an email to Stars and Stripes.

ditzler.joseph@stripes.com
Twitter: @JosephDitzler