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Japan hospitals low on flu shots as materials used for COVID vaccines

This screenshot taken on Oct. 22, 2021 shows a notification on the Nijiiro Kodomo Clinic's official website announcing that it has suspended reservations for influenza vaccines.

TOKYO -- Distribution of the seasonal influenza vaccine has been delayed compared with a typical year due to a shortage of pharmaceutical materials stemming from the mass production of coronavirus vaccines.

    Medical institutions are being flooded with inquiries about shots amid concerns about a flu outbreak alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some have already suspended flu shot reservations as the slots are fully booked, and the lack of supply has left many children without vaccines. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is calling for the available doses to be used efficiently.

    According to the health ministry, 25.67 million to 27.92 million flu shots are expected to be distributed this season, or about 20% less than the previous year. It says that doses equivalent to a typical year can be secured, but while about 90% of the estimated supply was shipped in late October last year, apparently only around 65% has been shipped so far this year.

    The Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases' influenza vaccination prospectus for this season points out that the country may not have reached herd immunity as the number of flu patients was extremely low last season. The association warns that if an influenza virus is brought in from overseas, it may cause a large outbreak.

    "I don't know if the children can get their second doses," complained a 34-year-old woman from Aichi Prefecture, who has three kids aged 3 to 8. Children under the age of 13 must get two flu shots with at least two weeks between their first and second doses. Her children all got their first on Oct. 15, so the second dose will be available from the end of October. However, she says she was told by the clinic, "Vaccine supplies are low and we can't guarantee the second shot."

    The Nijiiro Kodomo Clinic in the Tokyo suburban city of Fuchu secured about 80% of their typical influenza vaccine doses in late September, but these were all reserved in a few days. According to its director Kazuaki Takabatake, when the clinic notified its registrants through the free messaging app Line that it had procured doses enough for dozens, it was flooded with phone calls, and the doses were fully booked in about 30 minutes. The clinic is waiting for more supplies, and has suspended reservations.

    According to the health ministry, the supply of flu shots will increase from around November, and it is expected to be about the same amount as any year by December. Takabatake explained, "Flu activity usually peak from November to December. Even if their arrival is delayed a little, please don't panic, because it seems that enough vaccines can be secured in the end."

    (Japanese original by Takuya Murata and Yuki Ogawa, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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