A sailor prepares a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, May 7, 2021.

A sailor prepares a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, May 7, 2021. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The latest COVID-19 vaccine is now available at a handful of American bases in Japan but still in transit or on order for several others, according to military officials.

Pfizer shots arrived last week at Yokota Air Base, the home of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo, according to 1st Lt. Danny Rangel, spokesman for the 374th Airlift Wing.

“The boosters are available for patients older than 5 years old,” he said by email Friday. “We ask members seeking to receive their vaccine to make an appointment by calling the 374th Medical Group appointment line.”

The FDA no longer calls the shot a booster for those already vaccinated, according to Andy Pekosz, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

“The change in wording reflects that we’ve begun treating COVID like we treat influenza, with annual vaccination,” he wrote in a Q&A published Sept. 14 on the university’s website.

Experts recommended that everyone who is eligible get the updated vaccine by mid-October, ahead of cooler weather and more indoor gatherings, Pekosz said. Those at higher risk of severe illness should get vaccinated as soon as possible, he said.

U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa on Camp Foster has the vaccine available for anyone with access to the facility who has already been vaccinated, hospital spokesman Trey Savitz said by email Monday.

The hospital received 600 doses on Nov. 14 and began administering them two days later, he said.

Pfizer vaccines were available Wednesday for “high risk patients” at U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka, home of the U.S. 7th Fleet south of Yokohama.

The patients include those 65 years or older and anyone at least 5 years old who is immunocompromised or chronically ill and undergoing medical care, the hospital announced Tuesday on Facebook.

The vaccine will eventually be made available to everyone who is under the status of forces agreement, according to hospital spokesman Gabriel Archer.

“Moderna is on back order with the company, and they anticipate shipment as soon as it becomes available from the manufacturer,” he said by email Monday.

Medical staff will confirm vaccine temperature and integrity before they are administered, Archer added.

“We expect a smooth and expeditious roll out of this formulation in partnership with the entire SOFA community,” he said.

At Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni near Hiroshima, the vaccine is available at the Naval Family Branch Clinic, the base public affairs office said in an email Tuesday.

Camp Zama, the home of U.S. Army Japan near Tokyo, expects its vaccine shipment this week, command spokesman Maj. Devon Thomas said by email Monday.

Vaccines are also still on order for Sasebo Naval Base, spokesman Aki Nichols said by email Monday.

“No mention of when they will be available to Sasebo community members,” he said.

People in northeastern Japan will have to wait until next year, according to 35th Fighter Wing spokesman Tech. Sgt. Chris Jacobs.

“Misawa Air Base will have COVID-19 shots available for SOFA status residents in early 2024,” he said by email Tuesday.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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Kelly Agee is a reporter and photographer at Yokota Air Base, Japan, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years. She is a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program alumna and is working toward her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Her previous Navy assignments have taken her to Greece, Okinawa, and aboard the USS Nimitz.

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