Japan must do everything possible to ensure stable COVID-19 vaccine supply

It is important to eliminate the bottleneck of the supply system for COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible and encourage a wide range of generations to get vaccinated.

The central government must work closely with local governments and companies to present a clear outlook on future supply, while at the same time ensuring efficient distribution.

According to the central government, the accumulated number of doses given has exceeded 50 million and one in three elderly has been fully vaccinated with two shots.

The vaccines seem to be producing positive effects as the ratio of the elderly among new infection cases has obviously been declining. It is vital to maintain this pace and proceed with the vaccination of all people who want to be inoculated.

For the vaccine manufactured by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and another developed by U.S. biotechnology firm Moderna, Inc., the central government has concluded contracts under which Japan is being supplied a combined total of 240 million doses through the end of this year. The government should dispel public anxiety by providing careful explanations that a sufficient amount of doses has been secured to cover all people who can be injected with the vaccines.

In addition to inoculations by local governments, workplace vaccinations got into full swing in late June at companies and universities. However, the government was forced to suspend accepting additional applications after it had received requests for a greater number of doses than initially expected.

The elderly is being given top priority for vaccination by municipal governments. It is natural that expectations have become high for workplace and university inoculations, as they can help reduce the risk of infections among employees and students. The central government can be said to have greatly underestimated the demand for such vaccinations.

As more and more members of the working-age generation get vaccinated, the economy and society will gain momentum toward the full-fledged restoration of activity. It is an urgent task for the government to secure vaccines and scrutinize details in applications so that it can resume accepting new requests.

It is undeniable that supplies of vaccines to local governments have been negatively affected as more and more workplaces are administering shots. Some local governments and other entities that were preparing for setting up vaccination sites have been forced to suspend accepting reservations because they find it difficult to secure sufficient amounts of vaccines.

Local governments and companies were making preparations by securing venues and doctors for their own vaccination programs, as the central government called for expanding the inoculation capacity to achieve its target of administering 1 million shots per day.

If sufficient amounts of vaccines are not supplied to local governments and companies despite all these efforts, it is understandable for them to be fretful over what appears to be the central government suddenly leaving them hanging. This development can only be described as the central government’s blunder.

The central government has pointed out that municipal governments have a large number of vials in stock. On their part, however, municipalities are probably storing the necessary amounts to ensure that they can administer second doses.

The central government must share information with local governments and precisely grasp how many shots have been administered and how much vaccines are in stock.

In addition, it must be necessary for the government to enter negotiations with the vaccine manufacturers to bring forward the schedule for exporting their products and make additional provisions. If the central government eventually finds surplus vaccines, it is worth considering providing them to developing countries.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 8, 2021.