Pedestrians wearing protective masks, following the coronavirus disease outbreak, walk under Japanese national flags in a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan. (Reuters)
He hated the idea of using “problem” systems that have broken down and confused other older residents, hampering the momentum for vaccination in Japan.
Fortunately, local officials in his small northeastern town helped him overcome red tape and got his shots fired – a rarity in Japan, where authorities are rushing to inoculate the vulnerable elderly population before the start of the Summer Olympics in just six weeks.
“This way is great,” Hayashi told Reuters after he and his wife received their second dose at a local gym. “You receive a notice that says to come on this or that day.”
Soma, a rural town 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Tokyo devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, has been ahead of most of the country in vaccinations by heeding the lessons learned from the catastrophe a decade ago.
Japan lags far behind other advanced economies in vaccinating its population: 12% have received at least one injection, according to a Reuters tracker, compared to France, the next lowest level in the world. Group of seven industrial powers at 42%, and the most advanced, Canada, at 63%.
Soma’s agile and local approach avoids the reservation systems and fragmented efforts that are common throughout Japan. The city has inoculated 84% of its elderly, up from about 28% nationwide, is now injecting the younger generations, and aims to reach 16-year-olds by the end of July, just as the Games begin. Olympics
Prime Minister Yoshihide suga he wants Japan’s elderly population to be fully vaccinated by July and all adults by November. But that will require increasing shots to a million per day from the so far peak of around 700,000.
Part of SomaThe success is due to its small population of 35,000, which makes it easier to reach people in the Pacific coast city in Fukushima prefecture than the medical staff spread out in giant urban areas.
But the city is also succeeding where much of Japan has not because of the painful lessons of the tsunami that killed 450 city dwellers as it stretched 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) inland.
‘PEOPLE WHO JOIN’That disaster taught Soma the importance of devising and communicating clear plans, working closely with local medical professionals, bringing affected people together in concentrated locations, and not waiting for a plan to arrive from Tokyo, Deputy Mayor Katsuhiro said. Abe.
“I don’t know if I would say we couldn’t have done this had it not been for the earthquake disaster,” Abe said. “But this vaccination program comes together with the experience of the city government and the people who came together to deal with it over these 10 years.”
Japan has avoided the huge number of Covid-19 cases and the number of deaths seen in many nations, but the start of vaccine implementation in mid-February was later than most and was initially hampered by the shortage of imported vaccine supplies.
The distribution was then uneven, while the reservation systems were broken or confused the seniors prioritized for the intakes.
Soma leaders and doctors, drawing on the lessons of 2011, began drafting plans and conducting inoculation drills in December, months before the vaccines were approved.
The city established a central vaccination center, retaining medical personnel. Residents were called by city block, no reservation was necessary, and the city sent buses for those unable to travel on their own.
After the previous disaster, Soma residents know to look out for each other, while city officials are used to moving from office work to crisis management, said Abe, a lifelong Soma resident.
Townspeople are quickly transported to the waiting and screening areas, then to a divided area for their shots.
When some older patients became nervous when asked to turn left or right to take their photos, the staff improvised with cartoon posters on the walls: face the bunny to get an injection in the right arm, turn to the puppy to receive it on the left arm.
“The strategy must be adapted to each culture and local context,” said Kenji. Shibuya, who this spring resigned as director of the Population Health Institute at King’s College London to help run Soma’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
“It’s a war,” said Shibuya, a persistent critic of Japan’s handling of the pandemic.
He said the best the government can do is provide a steady supply of vaccines and supplies to municipalities, leaving the rest to the people on the ground.