Take measures to facilitate speedy vaccination of the elderly

Progress has been slow in COVID-19 vaccinations of the elderly. It is imperative to promptly end the confusion and establish a system in which elderly people, who are prone to become seriously ill if they contract the disease, can be vaccinated as soon as possible.

The vaccination program for the elderly has started in various areas across Japan. Local governments were flooded with phone calls and online applications from people seeking to make reservations for the vaccines, and NTT East Corp. and NTT West Corp. placed restrictions on communications to avoid any impact on emergency calls for fire departments and the police.

In some cases, reservation procedures had to be suspended as elderly people flocked to the reception desks set up by local governments, and regular operations at medical institutions were affected as staffers had to answer incessant phone calls.

It is understandable that the elderly would rush to be inoculated because they are concerned that they might develop serious symptoms if infected with the novel coronavirus. Each local government should devise measures that will prevent excessive crowding in reservation applications, such as by sorting elderly people into age groups and setting different vaccination periods for each group, instead of sending out vaccination vouchers all at once.

Many elderly people could be unfamiliar with the process of making online applications. The Fukushima municipal government has hired university students as part-time workers at the city office to help the elderly with online reservations. Local governments should strive to manage the operation while providing detailed assistance for the elderly.

Smooth implementation of inoculations is also necessary. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said that vaccinations for the elderly should be completed by the end of July, but some areas are likely to miss the deadline. One reason behind the expected delay is a shortage of medical workers.

In the United States, not only doctors and nurses but also pharmacists are administering vaccines. In Japan, the government has allowed dentists to give injections. To ensure speedy vaccinations, it is important to establish a system in which dentists, doctors and nurses can work together.

Uncertainty over the vaccine supply and shipment schedule, which has sometimes not been finalized until just before scheduled vaccinations, is another factor in the slow progress in vaccinations. The central government must take into account the preparation period necessary for local governments and make efforts to provide information, such as the distribution schedule of vaccines, at an early stage.

Many local governments are conducting both mass vaccinations in which elderly people visit facilities such as community centers to get the shots and so-called individual vaccinations in which vaccines are administered at local clinics in the area. The Tokyo Medical Association is calling on doctors working at clinics to take part in the vaccination program in a proactive manner.

There are many elderly people who have health issues and take medication on a daily basis. Local medical associations should cooperate to increase the number of individual vaccinations by having more of these elderly people vaccinated by their regular doctors they visit.

After the elderly, other people will be vaccinated as well. Flexible measures should be considered so that people can receive injections at their workplaces.

Vaccinations will also start at large inoculation sites, to be operated by the Defense Ministry, in Tokyo and Osaka Prefecture on May 24, with reservations accepted online from Monday. It is important to ensure that people will not make dual reservations with local governments’ programs to avoid further confusion.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 16, 2021.