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[Japan] Prefectural govts juggling short supply of coronavirus vaccines


Prefectural governments are conducting a delicate balancing act as they try to efficiently vaccinate the health care workers given top priority for getting a jab to combat the novel coronavirus, despite being allocated only a limited supply of vaccine by the central government.

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Delays in rolling out the program will unavoidably result in an overlap with the April start of vaccinations for elderly people, which has raised concerns the entire process could become muddled.

The first priority is to vaccinate about 40,000 medical care workers at about 100 hospitals under the National Hospital Organization that frequently come into contact with coronavirus patients. Second on the vaccination priority list will be about 4.7 million other health workers including ambulance personnel, rescue team members and public health center workers. After this, elderly people aged 65 or older, who have a high risk of suffering severe health problems if they contract the virus, will get a jab. Prefectural governments are mostly in charge of administering the top-priority vaccinations that got into full swing Wednesday.

As of Thursday, coronavirus patients occupied 25.2% of beds in Ishikawa Prefecture, which placed the prefecture at stage three on the government’s four-stage scale. Although Ishikawa has about 44,000 people in the high-priority vaccination groups, the prefecture will in the first and second weeks of March receive enough doses to give about 10,000 people only the first of their two COVID-19 shots. As a result, the prefecture will start vaccinating workers at five key hospitals that treat seriously ill coronavirus patients, including Kanazawa University Hospital, Kanazawa Medical University Hospital and Kanazawa Municipal Hospital. “We took this step because we couldn’t secure enough vaccine to fully inoculate everybody at once,” a prefectural government official said. “After vaccinating medical workers at these five hospitals, we will consider doing other large hospitals.”

The state of emergency declared due to the pandemic was recently lifted in Osaka Prefecture, which has about 310,000 medical workers in the priority groups. In the first half of March, Osaka will receive enough vaccine for only about 70,000 people. About 140 medical institutions in Osaka treat coronavirus patients, but there will not be enough vaccine to cover all of their workers. The prefectural government has decided to start vaccinating medical staff at 78 hospitals that accept many coronavirus patients.

In the Tokyo metropolitan area, vaccines were shipped Thursday to nine medical facilities, including municipal hospitals. Doctors and other personnel at three facilities were vaccinated that day. “The schedule given to us will deliver enough vaccine for about one-sixth of the 600,000 people in line to get it,” a Tokyo government official said. “I want the central government to tell us as soon as possible when they expect to provide more doses.”

■ Balanced approach

Kumamoto Prefecture has adopted a balanced approach to distributing vaccine to its various regions. Vaccine will be provided to hospitals that treat coronavirus patients and also to medical facilities in regions that do not accept these patients. “We want to be prepared to respond in case there is a sudden surge of coronavirus patients in a rural region,” a Kumamoto prefectural government official explained.

Hyogo Prefecture plans to prioritize medical facilities that treat coronavirus patients when distributing vaccines, but the prefecture reportedly also will attempt to ensure every region receives at least some doses.

Hokkaido decided to deliver vaccine arriving in the first half of March to medical facilities that treat coronavirus patients. The Hokkaido government will share out any additional doses that arrive, so it is calling on the central government to indicate an order of priority for these vaccines. “There could be confusion over vaccinations if there isn’t enough to go around. We need set standards to help gain the understanding of local residents,” a Hokkaido government official said.

Kanagawa Prefecture, which will receive only 54,600 doses for about 300,000 people on priority lists, plans to start vaccinations as the vaccines arrive. However, it has not yet decided the order of vaccine recipients.

■ Elderly jabs could muddy waters

As the inoculation of medical workers ramps up, the vaccination of elderly people will start in stages from April 12 and spread to all municipalities in late April. However, there is no prospect of securing enough vaccine for the 36 million elderly people across Japan by then. There are concerns local governments will find it even harder to arrange vaccinations for elderly people than they did for medical workers.

“If the vaccinations for health care workers and elderly people are administered at the same time, it will become harder for unvaccinated medical staffers to look after senior citizens,” a Shizuoka prefectural government official said. Some vaccination schedules might get pushed back, the official added.

Kagoshima Prefecture will vaccinate its priority medical workers at 24 core vaccination facilities capable of treating large numbers of people. The prefecture also has increased the number of satellite facilities that receive doses from these core facilities to 804, a step taken to quickly secure sufficient venues in preparation for launching vaccinations of elderly people.

Published : March 10, 2021

By : The Japan News/ANN