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Editorial: Japan gov't must show leadership in COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Japan will begin giving priority coronavirus vaccine shots to some 36 million seniors starting on April 12, amid severely limited supplies.

    The country's local governments must build an inoculation system at the same time as remaining open to the needs and concerns of their citizens. To prevent the entire effort from descending into chaos due to a lack of available information, the central government should set out basic guidelines on how to proceed with vaccinations.

    Just 1.4 million seniors are expected to get the jab in April, or a little less than 4% of the elderly population. The first round of vaccinations will reach only 50,000 people or so across the entire country.

    What's more, the shots will not be distributed based on local spread or case numbers, but in uniform batches to each prefecture. That has put the prefectures in the very difficult position of having to decide which municipalities this limited supply will go to first. And some of the municipalities, which are ultimately responsible for getting needles in arms, are having to put off group vaccinations. Some are now planning to start inoculations with nursing home residents, who are vulnerable to cluster infections, and reviewing other plans.

    The number of available doses distributed is projected to rise beginning in May. Depending on local conditions, perhaps it is a good idea for some regions to start vaccinating in earnest once they have guaranteed sufficient supplies.

    Vaccine distribution for the elderly will apparently be finished in June, followed by shots for people with preexisting conditions, and then the general public. In other words, this will inevitably be a drawn-out process.

    Based on the advice of experts, the Japanese government must consider what vaccination plan would be most effective, and then act accordingly. Most of Japan's vaccine supply will continue to come from overseas. The government must continue to work to make sure imports keep coming as scheduled.

    Regarding adverse reactions to the shots, a health ministry expert subcommittee has stated that "there are no major safety concerns at this point."

    Nevertheless, there are likely a lot of people in the country anxious about the vaccine. To make sure as many people as possible can get inoculated without concern, a speedy and easily understood information campaign about potential side effects is indispensable.

    As early as May, another two types of vaccine are expected to be approved by Japanese authorities. The government should quickly lay out how these vaccines will be distributed based on who will get them and the way they are administered.

    The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has declared that, with the end of the second coronavirus state of emergency, "safe and speedy vaccinations" will be one of the government's core pandemic policies. It must take up that task itself, instead of leaving it entirely to local governments.

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