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Japanese local gov'ts throw away leftover COVID vaccines after appointments canceled

A syringe with Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine inside is seen in Koga, Fukuoka Prefecture, in February 2021. (Mainichi/Osamu Sukagawa)

As the administration of coronavirus vaccines has begun for older adults in Japan, there have been a series of cases in which local government bodies have disposed of leftover doses of the vaccines, due to people canceling their vaccination appointments.

    The vaccines must be used within several hours after they are unsealed.

    Minister of administrative reform and of coronavirus vaccines Taro Kono has urged local governments to use up the vaccines without disposing of them by finding someone new to vaccinate, but local government officials are at a loss as to how to prioritize who gets the leftover vaccines.

    The city of Kyoto in western Japan began vaccinating residents and staff at nursing homes on April 12. But on April 12 and 13, the city government disposed of three doses of the vaccine in total.

    According to the city's medical and health planning division, it had planned on vaccinating a total of 40 nursing home residents and staff on April 12, but two of the staff were unable to receive the vaccine because of work scheduling conflicts, forcing the city to dispose of two doses of the vaccine. The city had known it would end up with one surplus dose on April 13, and the medical and health planning division had approved of the disposal. The division now says that it made a naive decision.

    In the Shiga Prefecture capital of Otsu, also in western Japan, which began mass vaccinations of people aged 85 and older, seven doses of the vaccine were left over. People eligible for vaccination had to reserve spots in advance, but the leftovers were due to cancellations of those appointments.

    The Otsu Municipal Government had accounted for possible cancellations to begin with, and had planned to vaccinate medical workers at the vaccination center who wanted to be inoculated if there turned out to be a surplus of vaccines. Following these plans, of the seven leftover vaccines, six doses were administered to one physician and five pharmacists. However, one dose that was left over on the first day of vaccinations was disposed of because all of the doctors and nurses who were there had already received their vaccinations, and the pharmacist who had been a candidate to receive a leftover vaccine had already finished their work for the day and left the vaccination center. The one leftover vaccine is said to have been due to a last-minute cancellation, and city officials are calling on the public to get in touch with them as soon as possible if they are canceling their vaccination appointments.

    In the Tokyo suburban city of Hachijoji, two people with appointments on April 12 did not show up at a mass vaccination center, and their doses were thrown out. The municipal government said it decided that it could not guarantee fairness if it allotted the two doses to other older adults. In the Fukushima Prefecture city of Koriyama, in northeastern Japan, a woman canceled her appointment on April 13, leading the municipal government to dispose of her dose.

    Leftover vaccines cannot be stored for later use. U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer's vaccine that has been supplied to Japan thus far has five doses per vial, and the doses must be used up within six hours after the seal has been broken. Because of this, there is a need to set the number of people receiving vaccinations to a multiple of five.

    (Japanese original by Kanae Soejima, Kyoto Bureau; Manabu Niwata, Otsu Bureau; Megumi Nokura, Hachioji Bureau; and Hiroshi Endo, Tokyo City News Department)

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