A Japanese government delay in rolling out COVID-19 Reminders left this more vulnerable than other rich countries when the omicron variant caused a surge of dead, say experts, local governments and a former vaccine czar.
the issue could mean political unrest for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at almost 30% of the population is aged 65 or over, and therefore at most grand risk of the coronavirus without the protection of the booster. Kishida’s predecessor stepped in down after much criticism of its handling of the pandemic and the prime minister is in power party do face to an important test with a rod house election this year.
On Tuesday, Japan recorded 236 new death, son worst ever one-daily toll from COVID-19.
Although Japan was relatively slow to launch its initial vaccination campaign, it accelerated it up quickly and in November had the highest vaccination rate within the Group of seven rich countries. But then the Ministry of Health stuck to a protocol for eight months of waiting between first vaccination course and booster, even if other countries cut the wait times and local governments, including Tokyo, have called for a faster rollout.
The minimum expectation was finally shortened at six months – still longer than South Korea’s three months and Singapore’s five. Only 10% of from Japan population had a third shot, compared with more more than 50 % in South Korea and Singapore.
Hidekiyo Tachiya, mayor of City of Soma in northern Japan and president of a national association of municipal elected officials, met Kishida in October in the press for a beginning start to boosters. But none were given out until December, then only to doctors and healthcare workers.
“If they had said us in November, that six months were enough, so in Soma we coulda got the shots out from December and for that I feel resentment,” Tachiya, who is a doctor, told Reuters. “If it had been faster, there wouldn’t have been so much suffering and so much people wouldn’t have died.”
Authorities in Tokyo also pushed for faster boosters but to no avail.
“We asked for this next shot like soon like possible but the government didn’t quite agree,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters recently.
A Department of Health spokesperson said the eight-month delay between injections had been decided by a health sciences board and the system was modified in December and January to meet the menace omicron.
The vaccine chief under the previous administration, Taro Kono, said the problem was a slow-moving civil service.
“The failure was the Ministry of Health,” Kono, who remains a senior official in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told Reuters in a meeting. “I told the bureau of the Prime Minister, you have to be careful because the Ministry of Health is not going help you out,” he said.
“You really have to whip them to get things moving.”
Kono, who was hailed by the public and health specialists for his role in the vaccine drive said intervention was key to get things done quickly.
He remembers courting the executives of Pfizer Inc to ensure faster vaccine deliveries, on one opportunity, leave one feed the prime minister’s koi fish after a breakfast at the prime minister’s residence, in the hope that the gesture would be help speed up Provisions.
In addition to the recall delay, the Moderna Inc vaccine was not approved as a booster until more more than a month after the approval of the Pfizer vaccine. There were not enough supplies of both to distribute evenly and to ensure this people received the same booster as their vaccine, although authorities later recommended people get whatever booster was available.
Regulatory approval for the recalls were made in accordance with the law, the ministry said.
“In a sense, the current situation in Japan is business as usual and the previous administration and minister were exceptional in positive meaning,” said Haruka Sakamoto, a physician and public health researcher at Keio University.
With signs that the omicron wave reaches son climax, the booster program, which Kishida has pledged to spearhead, is finally gaining momentum. The Ministry of Health announced this week that it buy and import 10 millions additional Pfizer doses by March.
While new infections are in fashion down, deaths are a lagging indicator and continue to climb. Almost 2,000 people is dead of the coronavirus in Japan in February.
The delay could become a problem for Kishida, says politician commentator Atsuo Ito.
“We are the farthest behind advanced nations,” Ito said. “Korea, right next door is already taking their fourth shots.”