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Many local gov'ts 'unclear' about achieving Japan's vaccine goals due to supply shortages

COVID-19 vaccine syringes ready for administration are seen in this photo. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- Among 69 Japanese municipal governments including prefectural capitals and Tokyo's 23 wards, 42 respondents, or about 61%, answered it is "unclear" if they can meet the central government's initial goal of "inoculating everyone who wishes to do so by the end of November," while four respondents, or 6%, said it was "impossible" as of July 16.

    The Mainichi Shimbun conducted the survey in response to the decrease in COVID-19 vaccine supplies. The national government announced on July 21 that it will distribute enough vaccine doses to cover 80% of the population aged at least 12 to each prefecture by the beginning of October, but it is unclear whether this can lead to the end of the confusion.

    Vaccines are supplied by the central government to municipal governments every two weeks. Based on the fact that the amount of supplies available for the first half of August was confirmed by July 16, the Mainichi conducted the survey and received responses from all local authorities. While 21 respondents, or 30%, said it is "possible" to meet the goal, the Niigata and Kumamoto municipal governments answered without choosing any of the options.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has deemed the vaccines as "trump cards" against the pandemic, and announced during Yomiuri Telecasting Corp.'s TV program on July 17 that he intends to move up the target of completing vaccines to "in October or early November." Meanwhile, confusion is spreading due to the lack of vaccine supplies among local governments, which have been accelerating inoculations after the central government urged them to.

    As for the amount of supplies in the first half of August, 48 cities and wards, or 70%, said that they had received less than 50% of the desired amount, and none of the respondents received the quantity they had requested. The shortage of supplies has been striking since July, and 23 municipalities, or 33%, answered that they had stopped accepting new reservations all together or to some extent. Four of them have since restarted taking reservations, and 10 said they "have prospects for resuming," while nine replied they "have no prospects for resuming."

    Tokyo's Nakano Ward, which stopped accepting new reservations from mid-July, plans to accept reservations again in August, but since it "had to limit the number of vaccinations," it cannot return to the same inoculation pace as before. Only three of the 69 municipal governments said they "can proceed in accordance with the initial plan," suggesting that more than 90% of the respondents have to make some changes to their vaccination rollout plans.

    Asked what their plans on inoculations in August and September are in a question allowing multiple answers, 49 municipalities, or 71%, said they "will reduce reservation slots," 23, or 33%, chose "reduce group vaccination sites," and nine, or 13%, said they "will cancel plans to set up group inoculation sites."

    Though the time for vaccinating those in working-age groups is reaching its peak, inoculations will likely be scaled back due to the nationwide supply shortage.

    On the other hand, 64 municipal governments answered that it is "possible" to complete the inoculation of residents aged 65 and older by the end of July. However, Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward and the city of Wakayama said they "cannot make it in time;" the city of Utsunomiya and Hiroshima did not choose an answer; and the city of Niigata provided an answer without choosing any of the options.

    (Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Lifestyle Medical News Department)

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