Sharing information is key to easing anxiety over COVID-19 vaccinations

Vaccinations, considered to be a deciding factor in the battle against the novel coronavirus, have started in Japan. The disclosure of information and detailed explanations about matters such as side effects are essential in getting more people to accept vaccinations.

Inoculations will first be given to 40,000 medical workers, then to about 36 million elderly people from April. Vaccinations for others are reportedly expected to start as early as this summer.

A vaccine manufactured by U.S. firm Pfizer Inc. is being used in Japan and has been confirmed to reduce the incidence of COVID-19 symptoms by 95%. On the other hand, it is reported that more than half the people who received this vaccine experience side effects such as headache and fatigue, and 15% develop side effects such as fever. While many of these side effects subside in a few days, they likely cause many people to worry about getting vaccinated.

The government plans to conduct follow-up surveys on the side effects experienced by 20,000 of the medical professionals who will be among the first to receive the vaccinations and make the results public. It is necessary to steadily implement this process to dispel public anxiety.

In addition to setting up consultation desks for side effects in each prefecture, the government intends to make arrangements so that people experiencing side effects can receive specialized treatment at university hospitals and other such facilities. If serious side effects are confirmed, it is important to make the facts public and call attention to them.

As it is an unprecedented project to vaccinate a large section of the public over a short period of time, municipalities shoulder a heavy burden as the main bodies responsible for implementing the project. In some areas, a sufficient number of doctors to handle vaccinations has not been secured. Local governments and medical associations should closely cooperate and make arrangements for that purpose.

The central government initially explained that in principle mass vaccinations should be conducted at large venues, but it began to recommend individual vaccinations at clinics from late last month. While individual vaccinations by family doctors are reassuring to recipients, local governments face difficulties managing and transporting vaccines.

There is also the possibility that nearly 20% fewer people will be able to be vaccinated. The central government had estimated six doses per bottle of the Pfizer’s vaccine, but it turns out that without a special syringe only five doses could be withdrawn from each vial.

Local governments will not be able to carry out their preparation work for vaccinations if they do not know what amount of the vaccine for how many people will arrive at a vaccination site. The government must thoroughly check the situation to prevent the recurrence of such a careless mistake.

Another cause for concern is that it is unclear when vaccines will arrive in Japan, due to a worldwide supply shortage. Since the European Union started last month to impose export restrictions on vaccines, the Japanese government reportedly has not been able to create a plan for distributing vaccines to each local government.

As the vaccinations will extend over a long period of time, such problems and sudden changes in policies are expected. The central and local governments should communicate well with each other and make efforts to prevent confusion on the front lines of vaccinations.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 18, 2021.