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Editorial: Japan must deal with COVID-19 vaccination concerns as inoculations begin

Vaccinations against the coronavirus began in Japan on Feb. 17. Some 40,000 medical workers will be inoculated first, with a vaccine produced by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. However, there are many outstanding issues to address.

    The vaccination process is a huge undertaking with all residents aged 16 and over eligible to be vaccinated, and some local governments -- which will be in charge of the process -- have expressed anxiousness. Securing medical workers to handle the vaccinations is a particular matter of concern.

    The central government has focused on mass vaccinations, but this approach requires a large number of workers, which could hinder the operation of general medical clinics. It should present concrete guidelines so that the vaccinations can be carried out smoothly, for example by grouping the inoculations by people's workplaces or medical institutions close to them.

    Vaccinations have already begun in many other countries, and Japan, as a developed nation, has been slow to start them. This is because Japan focused on ascertaining the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines with measures such as the addition of clinical trials in the country on Japanese people.

    In the period up till now, it was no doubt possible for Japan to utilize the experiences of other countries that have already commenced vaccinations to work out a better plan. But preparations have been left in the hands of local bodies.

    Additionally, insecurity remains over the supply of vaccines. The European Union has established a permission system for the export of vaccines produced within the region. It is risky to have a situation where imports are swayed by circumstances in other countries.

    To make matters worse, limitations on the number of vaccinations that can be administered have come to light. Japan expected each vial of the coronavirus vaccine would be enough for six doses, but most of the syringes that the government secured can apparently only extract five.

    The government was aware of issues with the system last year, but did not adopt effective countermeasures. It explained that it had a contract with Pfizer based on the number of vaccination doses, but it turns out that it will need more vials. It cannot be denied that this will affect the situation.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stated that vaccines are the decisive factor in measures to counter the coronavirus. But can Japan secure enough inoculations so that everyone can be vaccinated smoothly? Did Japan underestimate the seriousness of the situation, settling into a sense of security based on a provisional contract to secure enough vaccines?

    In March, vaccination vouchers will be sent out across Japan, and in April vaccinations of elderly people will begin. There remains little time to secure medical workers and vaccination venues.

    We hope that an online system to uniformly manage the state of vaccinations will be set up quickly. The establishment of a mechanism to quickly collate and share information on adverse reactions to the vaccine is also a pressing issue.

    At the same time, carful explanations need to be provided to the public on the benefits and risks of receiving the vaccines.

    Japan should put its full effort into creating a system to ensure the public is not left confused.

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