Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday instructed Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi to set up a large-scale vaccination center in Tokyo to deliver COVID-19 shots to the elderly faster.

The center will launch on May 24 and be staffed by Self-Defense Forces doctors and nurses, running for about three months, Kishi said at a press conference.

Nurses from the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are seen at a hospital in Hokkaido in December 2020, due to a shortage of health care workers following a series of  coronavirus infections there. (Kyodo)

About 900,000 people aged 65 or older residing in the capital and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures are expected to mainly use the center, which will exclusively offer Moderna Inc.'s vaccine, according to sources familiar with the plan.

The Moderna shot is still under review by the health ministry and municipalities are currently using the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc.

The center will be run in a government building in downtown Tokyo's Otemachi district with the help of the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

"The Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces are Japan's last line of defense. I'm asking you to play that role in COVID-19 measures, which are a crucial part of the nation's crisis management," Kishi quoted Suga as telling him.

Japan began its vaccination program in mid-February but lags behind other advanced countries such as Israel, Britain and the United States. Just over 1 percent of its population of 126 million has received at least one shot, mostly health care workers.

Suga has said the government aims to finish inoculating the elderly by the end of July, which would require the rollout to speed up significantly.

Kishi said he was also instructed to support plans to set up a large-scale vaccination center in the western region centering on Osaka, where infections are spreading faster than anywhere else in Japan. The sources said the government is considering similar sites in other parts of the country as well.

After the center in Tokyo finishes vaccinating the elderly, it will continue administering shots to people with underlying conditions such as diabetes and workers at elderly care facilities, Kishi told a parliamentary session on Tuesday.