After months of frustration and delay, Japan has achieved a remarkable figure of 1 million vaccines a day. But since the Olympics have to start in less than a month and only a small part of the country has been vaccinated, the question remains: Is it enough?
Vaccination rates are accelerating, although young people remain hesitant amid the anti-vaccination disinformation campaign and officials are delaying vaccination reservations as demand outstrips supply.
Add ongoing political and bureaucratic unrest and the arrival of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, and there are concerns that the government’s efforts to increase vaccinations before the Olympics will be insufficient.
Thousands of private companies and some universities have joined the vaccination initiative, complementing the government’s efforts to prioritize full vaccination of older people by the end of July.
Acceleration is causing concerns about supply shortages, and further progress is now uncertain. Taro Kono, the minister in charge of inoculations, abruptly announced the suspension of many new vaccination reservations, saying the spread of vaccines could not keep pace with demand.
“The situation is tight,” Kono said.
Much will depend on whether young nations adopt the vaccination program.
Although more people are being stabbed and the country’s fully inoculated 36 million senior citizens now seem likely, younger people are still largely unvaccinated and their movements during summer holidays and the Olympics could trigger a new rise in infections. driven by the more contagious Delta strain, which is expected to be dominant until then, experts say.
The resurgence of youth cases has already begun in Tokyo, with 619 new cases reported on Wednesday, compared to the last seven-day average of 405.
The inoculation device can lose steam if younger people, many of whom believe they are less likely to develop serious symptoms, do not inoculate. Skeptics are sometimes shaken by rumors and misinformation online about vaccines.
“How we can encourage the younger generations to get vaccinated is a big problem,” Kono said. Officials plan to contact them on social media to provide accurate information.
Despite fears that things will slow down again, observers acknowledge an unexpected turn in the vaccination campaign.
As early as the beginning of May, only a quarter of a million photos are taken every day, and only 2-3% of the population is fully vaccinated. Since then, the pace has risen to 1 million a day, a goal set by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, once considered too ambitious.
As of Tuesday, about 8.2% of the country had been fully vaccinated. Although impressive here, given the slow spread, it is still low compared to 46.3% in the UK, 44.9% in the United States and the global average of 10%, according to Our World in Data.
The workplace vaccination program kicks off on Monday. The government has received applications from nearly 4,000 sites run by companies and universities involving more than 15 million employees, their families and students, the prime minister’s office said.
Now Suga has a new goal to completely vaccinate everyone they want, by October or November. Officials did not say when the new vaccination reservations could be resumed, but noted that the overall schedule for the program would not be affected.
The spread of vaccination in Japan began with medical workers in mid-February, months after many other countries. The delay is due to additional clinical trials needed for vaccines developed abroad.
Elderly inoculations began in mid-April, but were delayed by supply and distribution uncertainties, difficult reservation procedures and a lack of medical staff to take pictures.
Japan, which does not yet have ready-to-use vaccines developed at home, relies on imports. Supply has increased since May, and despite earlier expectations of vaccine volatility in general, senior citizens fearing the virus have rushed to take pictures.
Since May 24, Japan has opened military vaccination sites in Tokyo and Osaka, while local municipalities have set up tens of thousands of other centers across the country.
The Japanese government and Olympic officials, despite their early promise to hold “safe and secure” games without vaccines, accepted a donation from the Pfizer International Olympic Dose Committee to participants as they vowed to speed up public vaccinations.
If things move forward, 70% of older people will be fully vaccinated by August, while 70% of workplace vaccinations will be completed by the end of November, according to a recent report by Mizuho Research & Technologies. If achieved, it would increase GDP by 1%, it said.
Numerous major retailers, carmakers and commercial companies began providing photos of Moderna, distributed by the government free of charge to their employees and families.
Anna Hatakeyama, a 26-year-old office worker, said she received her first stroke since Tuesday as part of a vaccination effort at her workplace. She welcomed the shot, although she believed the spread was still slow.
“Most of my friends didn’t get it,” she said. “I was lucky my company would administer vaccines.”
To attract younger people, technology giant SoftBank Group Corp. offers discounted tickets for SoftBank Hawks professional baseball games for those who complete vaccinations. The company launched its first inoculation site on Monday in Tokyo and aims to create more by the end of July for about 250,000 employees, their families and neighbors.
Japan has a historical distrust of vaccines, in part because the media often plays a rare side effect. A court ruling that the government was responsible for the side effects of several vaccines led to the abolition of compulsory inoculations in the 1990s.
Vaccination officials are also facing protests from skeptical parents opposing coronavirus inoculations in children aged 12-15, who have recently been added as eligible recipients.
Earlier this month, a Kyoto city office was flooded with calls accusing officials of attempted murder by inoculating children.
Even if vaccinations rise significantly in the coming months, waves of infections can still occur, as long as the young are largely unvaccinated, said Dr. Shigeru Omi, a senior state adviser on COVID-19.
“Although vaccines are very effective, they are not 100% and I believe it will take some time before we can control the infections,” Omi said. “We have to wait a while before we take down our guard.”