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Editorial: Japanese gov't cannot allow COVID-19 vaccine disparities

The Japanese government has temporarily stopped accepting applications for workplace COVID-19 vaccinations, just as they were getting into full swing. The suspension was triggered when applications outstripped the 33 million doses of the Moderna vaccine allotted to the program. Together with the shots slated for local government mass vaccination centers, the figure exceeded the supply of Moderna doses secured by national authorities.

    The impact of the suspension is acute for small and mid-sized businesses. Many of these firms had formed groups to implement the inoculations together, and these applications took longer to get through the process. Furthermore, companies already approved may see their vaccine deliveries delayed. Unavoidable schedule changes and other issues are creating chaos.

    The government has called vaccinations the "trump card" in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. But the mess we see now is the result of that very government rushing to widen the range of vaccination routes without proper preparation. We need a system reboot, and quickly.

    But this is far from the only problem with inoculations in Japan.

    According to a Mainichi Shimbun survey, many firms that applied for workplace vaccinations raised concerns about whether they would be able to secure enough medical staff to do the pre-shot medical history interviews and vaccine injections. We call for caution to prevent a scramble for personnel that may impact local government-run vaccinations.

    It is essential that the government create a system that will allow people to get their vaccinations with peace of mind. There is a very slight chance of a severe allergic reaction to the shots. The government should not just leave dealing with allergic reactions entirely to companies vaccinating their employees, but rather must encourage link-ups between the firms and medical institutions and otherwise make sure they are ready.

    It is also important for businesses inoculating workers to provide the jabs to every one of their employees who wants them, not just to permanent staff.

    What's more, it is essential to bear in mind that people can be prone to peer pressure in this situation, and that there are some people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. It also appears that there are people out there worried about vaccine side effects. Discrimination against people who cannot or decide not to get vaccinated is impermissible.

    Local government vaccinations are expected to focus on the elderly until July. There is a risk that the self-employed -- individual business owners, freelancers and the like -- not covered by company vaccinations could have their shots pushed back. We would like to see the national and local governments tweak the vaccination program to make sure no disparities emerge.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said Japan will aim to get everyone who wants a shot fully vaccinated by the end of November. However, a vaccine-resistant virus variant could emerge. The government cannot allow any slack in its coronavirus countermeasures.

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