COVID-19 booster campaign requires thorough preparations, explanations

The rollout of COVID-19 booster shots is set to start. The government should make use of its past experience to thoroughly explain and prepare for the campaign so that those who want to get a third vaccine dose can do so without a hitch.

COVID-19 vaccines have been found to become less effective in preventing infections over time. Most people who have been vaccinated are expected to have mild symptoms if they become infected. However, reports indicate an eventual increase in the number of cases of severe symptoms among vaccinated elderly people overseas.

In Europe and the United States, medical workers and elderly people have started to receive booster shots.

In Japan as well, the government has decided to implement booster vaccinations from Dec. 1. Starting with medical workers, the program will be gradually expanded to include elderly people. In principle, vaccinated residents will be eligible if eight months have passed since they received their second jab. However, depending on the situation, local governments may decide to administer jabs after six months.

However, with this explanation alone, it is difficult to know when people will be able to receive the booster shots. Many elderly people may feel unsettled when they hear that vaccine efficacy diminishes over time, even though the infection situation has finally calmed down and they are getting back to their daily lives.

As with the first inoculation rollout, it is also expected that local governments will be inundated with inquiries from people who want booster shots as soon as possible.

The central government must provide detailed information on the extent to which vaccine efficacy diminishes after eight months and what to watch out for while waiting for booster shots, among other things.

It is important for local governments to smoothly start the process of sending vaccination vouchers and establish a system that allows those who want to receive booster shots to get vaccinated as soon as possible. People with chronic illnesses are also prone to severe symptoms if they are infected with the virus. These people need to be given priority regardless of age.

The government has stated that the boosters should be administered to all people aged 18 or older who wish to receive the shots, but many Western countries that started booster campaigns before Japan have limited the target mainly to elderly and middle-aged people. The Japanese government must fully explain the reasons for including young people in the booster rollout and gain public understanding.

Thanks to the cooperation of the public and the efforts of local governments and companies, more than 75% of Japanese residents have received two vaccine shots. The vaccination rate is the highest among the Group of Seven industrialized nations and is believed to have contributed to the containment of the pandemic in Japan.

People who have not yet gotten vaccinated must continue to have the opportunity to do so even after the booster rollout begins.

The government has signed a contract with pharmaceutical manufacturers to supply 320 million vaccine doses to be administered next year. It said that it will be able to secure the necessary amount for those who wish to receive a third shot.

However, there is a possibility that vaccinations will be needed every year. It is important to expedite the development of a domestic vaccine so that a stable supply can be secured under such circumstances.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 19, 2021.