It may be too little, too late.
This is the realization that is sinking as Japan struggles to catch up with the disappointingly slow vaccination drive less than two months before the Summer Olympics, delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, must begin.
The Olympics risk becoming an incubator for the “Tokyo variant” as 15,000 foreign athletes and tens of thousands of employees, sponsors and journalists from about 200 countries descend – and potentially mingle – with a largely unvaccinated Japanese population, he said. Dr. Naoto Weyama, physician, head of the Japanese Medical Union.
As infections in Tokyo and other highly populated areas are currently at high levels and hospitals that are already under pressure are treating serious cases, despite the state of emergency, experts have warned that there is little relaxation in the system.
Even if the country manages to achieve its goal of full vaccination of all 36 million adults by the end of July – a week after the Games – about 70% of the population will not be vaccinated. And yet, many dismissed the goal as overly optimistic.
To do so, Japan promises to start administering 1 million doses a day soon. It currently gives only 500,000 a day, which is already a big improvement after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called in military doctors and nurses and began making legal exceptions to recruit other vaccinators to boost desire.
“Vaccinations at the current rate will not help prevent infections during the Olympics,” said Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association. “The Olympics could trigger the global spread of different variants of the virus.”
The International Olympic Committee says more than 80% of athletes and staff staying in the Olympic Village in Tokyo Bay will be vaccinated – and they are expected to remain largely in a bubble in the village and on the ground. But vaccination levels are unclear to other participants coming from abroad, including severely affected regions, and experts warn that even strict rules will not prevent all mixing, especially among non-athletes.
Prominent medical magazines are questioning the wisdom of moving forward with the Tokyo Games, and Asahi Shimbun, the country’s second-largest newspaper, is calling for them to be repealed, reflecting widespread opposition to the Olympic Games among the Japanese population.
But the government said it was determined to move forward, with the viability of Suga’s leadership and geopolitical competition with rival Beijing, the next host of the Olympics, and the health of millions in line.
“Using a new weapon called vaccines and taking firm preventive measures, it is entirely possible” to hold the Olympics safely, Suga told a parliamentary session on Tuesday.
Officials are now desperately trying to figure out ways to increase the shots at a time when health workers are already under pressure, treating patients with COVID-19. Many say they have no additional resources to help with the Olympics if, for example, the boiling Japanese summer causes widespread heat stroke. Some local leaders in and around Tokyo have rejected requests from Olympic organizers to set aside beds for athletes.
Dr Shigeru Omi, a former regional director of the World Health Organization and head of a government working group, said it was crucial to start inoculating younger people who are thought to be likely to spread the virus as much as possible. -Soon.
More than three months after the vaccination campaign in Japan, only 2.7% of the population is fully vaccinated. The country began spreading with health workers in mid-February, months behind many other countries, as Japan needed additional clinical trials here, a move many experts say has been medically pointless.
Inoculations for older people, who are more likely to suffer from serious infection problems, began in mid-April, but were delayed by initial shortages of supplies, cumbersome booking procedures and a lack of medical staff to take pictures.
But there are signs of improvement. Vaccine supply has increased, and despite earlier expectations of a hesitant response to vaccines in general, senior citizens fearing the virus are rushing to inoculation sites.
As of May 24, Japan has 280 military doctors and nurses in Tokyo and the badly damaged city of Osaka. More than 33,000 vaccination sites are currently operating across Japan and more are to come, said Taro Kono, the vaccination minister.
In Sumida, a neighborhood in central Tokyo where boxing events will take place, vaccinations for 61,000 adults began on May 10, and within two weeks, 31% had taken their first pictures, compared to the national average of 3.7%. Sumida is now aiming to start vaccinating younger people later this month, well ahead of schedule.
Close coordination between doctors, hospitals and primary care residents, as well as flexibility, have contributed to smooth progress, Sumida District spokesman Yosuke Yatabe said.
“It’s like a factory line,” Yatabe said.
Ruichiro Suzuki, a 21-year-old student in Tokyo, said he was disappointed with Japan’s lagging vaccination campaign.
“I saw that some of my friends abroad were vaccinated, but my turn will come later this summer,” he said. “The risk-free government has taken extra care, even when our main goal was to return to normal as soon as possible.
Kono, the vaccine minister, said more large-scale inoculation centers were being launched, including in hundreds of colleges and college offices, to start vaccinating younger people on June 21st.
In addition to concerns about the Olympics, and despite the fact that Japan has seen fewer deaths and deaths than the United States and other advanced countries, the slow pace of vaccinations and the long, often toothless state of emergency may also slow economic recovery for months, said Masaya Sasaki, a senior economist at the Nomura Research Institute.
And despite repeated expressions of official government confidence in games that are safe, there are concerns about what could happen if vaccinations do not go up.
“The Olympics, declared recovery games, could cause another disaster,” said Weyama of the Japan Medical Association.