After months of slowing down, the situation appears to be improving. But young people do not want to get vaccinated and the doses for the elderly risk not being enough. Meanwhile, millions of doses of AstraZeneca are donated to Taiwan
Less than a month into the Olympics, the vaccination campaign in Japan is finally starting to take off. However, there are risks, deriving from logistical, social and political factors, which threaten the success of mass immunization. After a hesitant departure, the threshold of 8 per cent of the immunized population was exceeded at the beginning of the week, a figure up from 2 per cent at the beginning of May but still far from the numbers of countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, which have almost reached 50 percent of vaccinated.
In the Land of the Rising Sun, the vaccination campaign, since its inception, has been characterized by slowness and delays. In mid-February, the immunization of health workers began, months later than in many other countries. The delays were caused by the need for additional clinical testing required for overseas developed sera. Vaccinations for the elderly were only opened in mid-April and, as if that weren’t enough, were slowed down by uncertainties in supplies and distribution, technical problems in booking procedures and a shortage of health professionals to employ to carry out the injections. Since May, the supply has increased and, despite previous expectations of generalized hesitation of the population, the elderly, frightened by the possibility of contracting Covid, have hurried to get vaccinated. Since May 24, Japan has opened military-run vaccination sites in Tokyo and Osaka, while local governments have established tens of thousands of centers across the country.
But if the over-60s have responded to the calls of the health authorities to be vaccinated, the same cannot be said of the younger ones: in Japan there is a strong skepticism towards vaccines, caused by massive disinformation campaigns that spread mainly through the web. The administration aims to intercept the boys by providing accurate information on social media, but in the meantime cases among young people are already rising again, with 619 new infections registered in Tokyo on Wednesday, up from the previous weekly average of 405. The start of the Olympics, with masses of people moving to one side to the other of the country, risks being the fuse that will cause new outbreaks, also thanks to the new, more contagious variants of the virus.
In addition to this, on Wednesday the minister in charge of vaccinations, Taro Kono, suddenly announced the temporary suspension of new bookings to receive the vaccine due to the onset of new logistical problems, stating that the distribution of doses cannot keep up with the question. Despite this, the Japanese government reassures that the roadmap will not change and that by October or November all those who ask to be vaccinated will be.
However, all these problems are not preventing Japan from sending 6 million doses of Astra Zeneca, a vaccine that is currently not being administered due to the risks associated with thrombosis, to some Southeast Asian countries as part of the Covax project, which promotes equal access to vaccines for the poorest countries. Beneficiaries include Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
According to an anonymous source in contact with the news agency Reuters, however, direct donations would serve Japan to increase its diplomatic influence in Asia, echoing similar initiatives undertaken by the United States aimed at countering China’s hegemony in the area. Taiwan has in fact accused Beijing of wanting to block the possibility of accessing foreign vaccines, a statement however denied by the Chinese government. A critical situation that risks degenerating with the spread of new variants, which find fertile ground precisely in densely populated poor countries.