With emergencies extended, pull out all the stops on vaccination efforts

The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus is decreasing, but it has not dropped enough. While the state of emergency is being extended to control the flow of people, vaccination efforts must be accelerated to contain the infections.

The government has decided to extend the state of emergency declared in Tokyo and eight other prefectures until June 20. With the extension, all current states of emergency are now set to run until then, including the one in Okinawa Prefecture that was originally set to run until that date. Emergency-level priority measures to prevent the spread of the disease will also last until June 20 in five prefectures.

The number of people newly infected with the virus has peaked across the nation and is turning to decline. However, some virus variants are highly infectious and the pace of decline is slow. The tight situation of hospital beds has not yet been eased, and the extension of the states of emergency is certainly appropriate.

At a press conference, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga emphasized: “The vaccine is the key to having [the infections] abate. I will aim for 1 million shots a day.”

Although there are now abundant supplies of vaccine, the number of inoculations per day is only about 500,000, which is still far short of the target. There is an urgent need to break the impasse in the vaccination process.

In addition to dentists, it is important to utilize people such as the nation’s 200,000 clinical laboratory technicians to secure sufficient personnel to administer the vaccinations. Unconventional methods must be considered, such as using online medical interviews to speed up time-consuming pre-vaccination examinations.

Family physicians who are familiar with their patients’ conditions can quickly determine whether or not to inoculate their patients. Wakayama Prefecture is making good progress with its vaccination program, focusing on vaccinations at medical institutions that are close to the patients, and this may be a useful reference for other local governments.

In addition to municipalities’ inoculation programs that use Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines at their vaccination venues, the government has introduced mass vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka with Moderna vaccines, effectively setting up two vaccination tracks. It is also important to spread the vaccinations to such venues as workplaces and universities and to flexibly expand the vaccination program beyond elderly people.

The Tokyo metropolitan government and the Osaka prefectural government said they will ease business suspension requests for such facilities as movie theaters, art museums and department stores. Cultural and art activities are essential to society. It is only natural to allow facilities that take appropriate infection-control measures to operate their businesses.

The government has been providing relief measures such as cooperation benefits and support money to bars, restaurants and other businesses. However, there reportedly are some cases in which the payments have been significantly delayed. The economic hardship has lasted for more than a year. Procedures must be simplified and the benefits must be provided promptly.

It is said that most of the original virus in Japan has now been replaced by the British variant. The Indian variant, which is said to be 50% more infectious, has been discovered in one case after another and is likely to become the mainstream virus in the future. It is necessary to strengthen border controls to stop the influx of the virus into Japan.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 29, 2021.