In December, Japan will begin administering the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Those who have completed the first two doses should be receiving vouchers before long. For the time being, the booster will be available only to those aged 18 and over.
The spread of infections in Japan is under control at present, but we must remain on guard. Proceeding with booster shots and continuing efforts to limit the damages caused by COVID-19 are unarguably the right courses of action.
For the time being, the Pfizer vaccine will be used, and "cross-vaccinations" —using a different vaccine from the one used for the first and second doses —has also been approved.
Although the efficacy of vaccination in preventing infection declines over time, they have been proven to maintain a certain degree of effectiveness in preventing serious illness and death, even after time has passed.
However, studies have shown that the vaccine's effectiveness in preventing serious illness is reduced in the elderly. Therefore, the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions and those working in healthcare and long-term nursing care are particularly encouraged to ensure that they are vaccinated.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare had initially decided on an interval of approximately eight months between the second and third doses of the vaccine. However, it later decided exceptions should be permitted at intervals over six months, based on the discretion of local government authorities.
In Western countries that began vaccinating earlier than Japan, infections are ramping up again. Some experts are predicting that a sixth wave will hit Japan between this December and January 2022. I would like to see local government authorities quickly carry out preparations and begin administering the vaccines as soon as they can be ready.
Despite the importance of these booster shots, the response of Fumio Kishida's Cabinet has been disappointing on several points.
First of all, information released by the administration has been confusing. This Cabinet should not follow in the footsteps of the previous Suga administration that was criticized for its lack of communication skills.
At a press conference on November 16, Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, Shigeyuki Goto, stressed that, “As a general rule, our policy on an eight-month interval between vaccinations has not changed.” Meanwhile, Vaccine Minister Noriko Horiuchi also remarked, “The general rule is an interval of eight months or longer.”
The reason for this emphasis on principle may be that some local governments have spoken up about “not having enough time” should the interval between doses be shortened.
The government has explained that any shortening of the interval would be on an exceptional basis, taking into account the status of infections in a certain area. However, once infections start spreading, it is already too late to rush into action.
The fact that local authorities are saying they will not be ready on time shows just how much confusion they are experiencing. Could the government have done a better job of considering the issue and calling on local authorities to prepare?
The pandemic is not yet over. We hope that the government will act in a manner appropriate to dealing with this emergency.
(Read the Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun