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Editorial: Local gov'ts left in lurch by Japan's erratic vaccine rollout

Confusion regarding coronavirus vaccinations is spreading among municipal governments in Japan -- and the blame lies with the Japanese government, which sped up the rollout but miscalculated the balance between its supply of vaccines and demand from local governments. The central government must strengthen its collaboration with municipal governments and reorganize the system.

    Officials say that enough vaccines for everyone in Japan who wants to be vaccinated will arrive by September, and that it will secure the necessary number of shots. But supplies of the Pfizer vaccine are not keeping up with demand as municipal authorities' ability to administer shots has improved.

    Universities, companies and other entities have also applied in their droves for use of the Moderna vaccine, and large-scale vaccinations by local governments using the Moderna vaccine have only been able to fulfill requests from about half of those seeking vaccination. Supplies up until the end of June had been far below initial expectations, but the government only recently announced this was the case.

    Some municipal authorities have been forced to cancel vaccination appointments and temporarily stop accepting reservations. The vaccine shortage is particularly noticeable in municipalities where the rollout had progressed swiftly.

    Until now, municipal governments have had a fire lit under them by the central government to achieve Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's target of administering 1 million shots a day. Despite them taking pains to recruit medical professionals and secure venues for vaccination, it appears local governments have been left hung out to dry.

    There is also a gulf in perceptions regarding vaccine stocks. The central government maintains that local governments have a total of 40 million doses in storage, and that it intends to reduce supplies to authorities said to have high stocks by 10% from August.

    In response, local governments have pushed back, saying they "have no surplus," and, "What we have isn't stock, but our supply of second shots."

    One cause of the divergence of views is that the government's vaccination record system is not fully functional. Registration takes times, and the state of vaccinations is not reflected in real time. It has also been pointed out that the system makes it hard to get any information on those who have been vaccinated outside where their home address is registered.

    To stop the confusion dragging on further, the government should work to understand the situation, and expedite efforts to improve system operations.

    The government is establishing a framework to supply vaccines in accordance with local governments' inoculation speeds. Prefectural governments will decide how the supplies are distributed, but clear criteria must be provided to prevent any new sense of unfairness emerging.

    The Suga administration has positioned vaccines as their ace in the hole to fight COVID-19, but cooperation within the government has been lacking. It must properly fulfill its role as a central point of command.

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