Japan’s Vaccine Push Looks Too Late Before the Olympics

Tokyo – Too little, may be too late.

The Olympics risks becoming an incubator for the “Tokyo Edition” as 15,000 foreign athletes and thousands of officials, sponsors and journalists from nearly 200 countries descend on – and potentially mixed – a largely unvaccinated Japanese population, Dr. . Naoto Uyama said. A physician, head of the Japan Doctors Union.

With infections in Tokyo and other heavily populated areas currently at high levels and despite hospitals already having a state of emergency to treat severe cases, experts have warned that the system is a bit lacking.

Even if the country succeeds in meeting its goal of fully vaccinating all 36 million elderly by the end of July – already a week into the Games – about 70% of the population will not be vaccinated. And many have dismissed the target as overly optimistic anyway.

To accomplish this, Japan is vowing to soon start administering 1 million doses per day. It’s currently only giving 500,000 a day, a major improvement already after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called on military doctors and nurses and began making legal exceptions for recruiting other vaccinators to boost the campaign. gave.

“Vaccination at the current pace will not help prevent infection during the Olympics,” said Tokyo Medical Association president Haruo Ozaki. “The Olympics could trigger a global spread of different forms of the virus.”

The International Olympic Committee says more than 80% of athletes and staff living in the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay will be vaccinated – and their village and venues are expected to remain largely bubbled. But vaccination rates are unclear for other participants coming from overseas, including in hard-hit areas, and experts warn that even stricter rules will not prevent everyone from mixing, especially among non-athletes.

Major medical journals have questioned the prudence of going ahead with the Tokyo Games and the Asahi Shimbun – the country’s second largest newspaper – has called for their cancellation, reflecting widespread opposition among the Japanese population to now holding the Olympics. .

But the government has said it is determined to move forward with the viability of Suga’s leadership and the viability of rival Beijing, the next Olympic host, as well as geopolitical competition with the health of millions.

“By using a new weapon called a vaccine and by taking stringent preventive measures, it is entirely possible” to hold the Olympics safely, Suga told a parliamentary session on Tuesday.

Officials are now desperately trying to think of ways to increase the shots at a time when medical workers are already under pressure to treat COVID-19 patients. Many say they have no additional resources to help with the Olympics, for example, Japan’s sweltering heat causes widespread cases of heat stroke. Some local leaders in and around Tokyo have rejected requests by Olympic organizers to set up separate beds for athletes.

Dr. Shigeru Omi, former regional director of the World Health Organization and head of a government task force, said it is important to start vaccinating young people as soon as possible, who are seen as vulnerable to spreading the virus.

More than three months into Japan’s vaccination campaign, only 2.7% of the population has been fully vaccinated. The country began its rollout with health care workers in mid-February, months behind many other countries because Japan required additional clinical testing here, a move that many experts say is medically meaningless. was.

Vaccinations for the elderly, who are more likely to face serious problems if they become infected, began in mid-April but slowed due to a lack of initial supplies, cumbersome reservation procedures and a lack of medical staff to deliver shots .

But there are signs of improvement. Despite the increased supply of vaccines and expectations of a hesitant response to vaccines in general, virus-stricken seniors are rushing to vaccination sites.

Since May 24, Japan has deployed 280 military doctors and nurses to Tokyo and the worst-hit city of Osaka. Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccination, said more than 33,000 vaccination sites are now operating across Japan, with more to come.

In Sumida, a district in the city of Tokyo where boxing events will be held, vaccinations for its 61,000 elderly residents began on May 10, and within two weeks, 31% had given up, compared to the national average of 3.7%. Got the first shot. Sumida now wants to start immunizing young people ahead of time later this month.

Sumida district spokesman Yosuke Yatabe said close coordination between primary care doctors, hospitals and residents, as well as resilience, have contributed to the smooth progress.

“It’s like a factory line,” Yatabe said.

Ryuichiro Suzuki, a 21-year-old university student in Tokyo, said he was disappointed by Japan’s backward vaccination campaign.

“I saw some of my friends abroad have been vaccinated, but it won’t be my turn until the end of this summer,” he said. “The risk-averse government took extra precautions even when our primary goal was to return to normalcy as soon as possible.”

Vaccines Minister Kono said a massive immunization center, including hundreds of college campuses and offices, is underway to begin vaccinating young people from June 21.

Beyond concerns about the Olympics and the fact that Japan has seen fewer cases and deaths than the United States and other advanced nations, the country’s slow pace of vaccinations and its prolonged, often toothless emergency have led to The situation may also delay its economic recovery. Masaya Sasaki, senior economist at Nomura Research Institute, said.

And despite repeated expressions of official government confidence in sports being safe, there are apprehensions about what could happen if vaccinations don’t happen.

“The Olympics, billed as the Recovery Games, could trigger a new disaster,” said Uyama of the Japan Doctors’ Union.


Associated Press writer Kantaro Komiya contributed to this report.


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