Accelerating boosters for the elderly is essential for overcoming 6th wave

The pandemic situation now is clearly different from the past. It is essential to implement government-initiated measures based on the characteristics of the omicron variant.

There are now nearly 100,000 daily cases in the sixth wave of novel coronavirus infections. Although the speed of expansion has slowed, the tally has continued to rise, except in some areas such as Okinawa Prefecture.

In areas where quasi-emergency priority measures have been put in place, the proportion of people infected at restaurants is diminishing. There has been a shift in which the majority of infections no longer appear among young adults but among children and the elderly. It is no longer sufficient to take measures only at restaurants.

Particularly when it comes to hospitalized patients, most of them are people aged 70 or older, unlike last summer’s fifth wave in which those in their 40s and 50s were conspicuous among the seriously ill. The efficacy of vaccines among the elderly, who were vaccinated early on, has been waning and it is therefore more important than anything to quickly offer them booster shots.

Under the government’s plan, a third dose for 14.7 million elderly people and others should have been completed by the end of January, but the completion rate stands at less than 30%. The pace should be quickened to more than 1 million shots a day, or twice the current levels.

It is time for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to exercise leadership. It is hoped that he will clarify where the bottleneck lies and present concrete measures to solve it.

It has been pointed out that the reason for the slow pace of inoculation is that people are shunning the vaccine made by Moderna Inc. Most elderly people so far have had the Pfizer Inc. vaccine and it is understandable that they think getting the same one for their booster is safer.

However, there is a report indicating that both vaccines can provide 70% protection against symptomatic infection and can be about 90% effective at preventing people from ending up in hospital. The government needs to carefully explain the efficacy and side effects of the Moderna vaccine while also striving to secure the Pfizer vaccine.

An increasing number of local governments are expanding the scope of recipients of the third dose to include younger generations so that they can fill reservations slots for the Moderna vaccine. The government plans to start vaccinations at workplaces in March or later, but there are company employees and others who have already received inoculation offered by local governments. Isn’t it all a bit late?

Companies and organizations that provide vaccinations are putting a lot of effort into securing medical staff and venues. The government should reduce the burden on companies and create an environment in which vaccinations can proceed smoothly.

The sixth wave is also characterized by an increase in infections at schools. There have been cases of group infections caused by droplets that spread as students shout during club activities or play recorders.

It is hoped that the government will assess the infection situation in each region and take specific measures. It is also important to be mindful of making sure learning opportunities are not compromised as much as possible by, for example, avoiding school closures for long periods of time.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 5, 2022.