Confusion a frequent side effect of coronavirus vaccination efforts

Confusion has arisen in many parts of the country over vaccinating elderly people against the novel coronavirus. The central and local governments must fulfill their responsibilities to ensure that vaccinations are carried out smoothly.

Infections have increased particularly in four prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, with the central government considering declaring a third state of emergency. Under such circumstances, administering vaccines to elderly people who are at high risk of serious illness and death is a pressing issue.

After the start of vaccinations of medical workers in February, the vaccinations of people aged 65 or older began on April 12. However, it is far from a situation in which people can receive a vaccine with peace of mind.

When the Oyama municipal government in Tochigi Prefecture began accepting vaccination reservations by phone and online, all reservations were fully booked within just five minutes. However, with many having difficulty getting through all day long, complaints reportedly flooded in from people who kept calling without realizing the acceptance of the reservations had ended.

In Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, as materials sent to elderly people included descriptions that could lead to misunderstandings that reservations for vaccinations had already started, a flood of inquiries to the city’s call center caused the line to go down temporarily.

Similar problems have occurred in other municipalities. What procedures should residents go through to make a reservation? How long do they have to wait if no reservations are available? If information remains uncertain, the anxiety and distrust toward the central and local governments among elderly people will only increase.

The fundamental cause of the confusion is a low absolute number of doses of vaccines. Since the supply of vaccines for medical professionals has been insufficient, many local governments have administered to medical workers vaccines originally intended for elderly people.

To make effective use of the limited number of vaccines, local governments will need to prioritize who should be targeted to get the vaccines.

Akita Prefecture distributed the vaccines only to Akita and Yokote cities, which have large elderly populations. Some local governments have set eligibility criteria such as being “80 and older” or “75 and older” and residing in an elderly care facility.

Even if vaccinations for the elderly go into full swing in May or later, the confusion will not be resolved if local governments are left to their own devices. With reference to past examples, the central government should present guidelines to local governments on how to distribute vaccines, go through vaccination procedures and deal with possible problems.

Sending vaccination vouchers could make many elderly people think they can receive the vaccine immediately. It is difficult for people who are not familiar with the internet to get the necessary information even if local governments urge residents to confirm the supply of vaccines on their websites.

Each local government must ensure that necessary information is distributed through multiple channels, including the expansion of consultation corners, call centers at their offices and the distribution of flyers.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 23, 2021.