Starting with health care workers, vaccinations against COVID-19 will begin as soon as Feb. 17.
Pfizer Inc. of the United States, the developer of the vaccine, has the health ministry’s special approval to distribute it in Japan.
This is an undertaking of an unprecedented nature, in that a vaccine developed with a new technology is being administered to a large number of people within a short period of time.
It is imperative that a thorough plan be put in place and have the public to fully understand the importance and necessity of being vaccinated.
The first group of vaccine recipients should be interviewed by professionals beforehand about their health and to also confirm their readiness to have the shot. They need to set an example for the rest of the nation to follow.
About a month after inoculation, they should be asked to submit to a health survey, the purpose of which is to discern side effects and other reactions, if any.
Speedy disclosure of detailed results should help increase the public’s faith in the system.
Following health care workers, seniors aged 65 and older will start getting inoculated after April. But vaccinating everyone twice in about three months will be a tough challenge and is bound to create many difficulties.
The government has yet to indicate any specific plans about how many doses of the vaccine it intends to secure, by when and where to distribute them.
Naturally, this has led local governments and health care professionals to voice their concerns and annoyance. Businesses cannot be run without timely communication of information.
The government last week announced that the number of vaccine doses per vial will be reduced from six to five. This was said to be necessitated by the design of the syringe, but the change considerably impacts the original plan.
The number of doses per vial has been a subject of discussion in Europe and the United States for some time, and the government’s handling of this information needs to be questioned. An examination is in order and anything requiring correction should be seen to swiftly.
There is also the matter of how to create a user-friendly vaccination environment.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has proposed that, aside from traditional mass-inoculation sites such as school gyms, people should also be allowed to get their shots at their local health care institutions, places of work and nearby facilities.
The health ministry has cited a model case in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, where residents can be inoculated at community clinics.
Going to one’s primary care physician for the shot would make matters easier if one develops problems later, as the doctor is already familiar with one’s overall health.
But for such an arrangement to be possible, the understanding and cooperation of local health care workers are indispensable.
Because the Pfizer vaccine must be stored under cryogenic conditions and be used up within a short period, mass inoculation was initially considered as the most effective method.
Bearing this in mind, we hope the central and local governments and the health care industry will join forces to prepare the nation for safe and user-friendly vaccinations.
As for possible post-vaccination side effects, the government is reportedly considering setting up prefectural consultation facilities that will work in concert with local health care institutions.
Those facilities will be responsible for interfacing with individuals needing help. And even more importantly, they will be tasked with creating a database of reported cases to analyze and assess their causal relationship with vaccinations.
The government must fulfill its major political responsibility of directing a national effort to protect the lives and health of its citizens.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 16