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Editorial: Japan's call for vaccinations of elderly without solid system creates confusion

COVID-19 inoculations of older people in Japan have finally begun to move forward. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that he aims to have 1 million vaccinations performed per day, and declared that all people aged 65 and over would get their second shot by the end of July.

    Swift vaccinations are a pressing issue for Japan. The country needs to secure medical personnel to administer the vaccines and respond to any side effects, and prepare a system that can smoothly handle vaccine appointments, among other issues.

    Rather than adopting a top-down approach and forcing a deadline on municipalities, the government should take the circumstances of local bodies into consideration, and quickly establish effective support measures.

    Japan has lacked a decisive means to curb the spread of infections, and is a lap behind other countries in its vaccine rollout.

    As of May 10, only around 1% of older people in Japan had had at least their first COVID-19 vaccine shot, and only around a quarter of the medical staff eligible for early vaccination had received their second one.

    When the National Governor's Association asked Japan's prefectural governments what issues they were facing with vaccinations, all of them mentioned a "lack of medical workers." There were also many that cited "disruptions to ordinary medical consultations" and "a lack of vaccination venues," and pointed out that "vaccinations of medical workers have not been completed."

    The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is allowing dental practitioners to administer vaccines. It has also requested help from former nurses who have left their positions. But even then, there are no prospects of securing the necessary numbers of personnel.

    Prime Minister Suga's order to the Ministry of Defense to set up large-scale vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka also appears to be a haphazard measure, fraught with problems. It is said that the centers will be able to handle up to 10,000 vaccinations per day, but if large numbers of elderly people gather at the venues, then it will be impossible to avoid crowding. The risk of people being infected with the coronavirus at the venues or on their way there will also likely increase. Furthermore, it remains unclear how the centers would split up vaccinations with local bodies.

    Even when it comes to making vaccination reservations, there has been trouble in various areas. It has been difficult for people to get through on the phone and to access sites online, and the lines of communication in some local bodies have been jammed by people trying to make bookings.

    Above all, it is unreasonable to expect older people to make bookings online when they are not used to using the internet. Such an approach completely disregards the feelings of those waiting for the vaccines.

    The Suga administration probably wants to use vaccinations to prepare an environment for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to go ahead. But even if the vaccination of elderly people proceeds, it doesn't mean that the risk of infections spreading will disappear.

    To prevent severe COVID-19 cases and deaths, the government not only needs to call out to local bodies to advance vaccinations, but to establish a system to facilitate steady and prompt inoculations.

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