Concerns on the front line under the microscope as vaccinations ramp up

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With COVID-19 vaccinations for the elderly set to begin in Japan next week, a key focus is whether local government staff can handle frontline work smoothly.

The new coronavirus infections are expected to hit a fourth wave nationwide, according to Shigeru Omi, who chairs a government advisory group on the coronavirus crisis.

Seeing the vaccine rollout as “the trump card” to prevent further spread of infections, the central government is taking all possible measures to help the vaccination campaign for citizens aged 65 and over, which will begin on Monday.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono, also in charge of vaccinations, called for a calm response as some local governments had already started accepting bookings from those targeted.

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“Those who wish can surely get vaccinated. So don’t panic, ”the minister said.

The vaccination program for people aged 65 and over will cover some 36 million people, more than seven times the number of medical workers (4.8 million in total), for whom vaccinations began earlier this year. The vaccine, made by US drug maker Pfizer Inc., is to be administered twice per person.

As a first step, the government will provide vaccine supplies for around 98,000 injections to local governments by the end of this week. He plans to gradually increase supplies to get enough by the end of June for each targeted citizen to receive two hits.

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Local government vaccine administration work is expected to be in full swing after the Golden Week recess from late April to early May.

Meanwhile, 194 local governments have expressed hope of administering vaccine injections during the holidays.

“We want to ensure an adequate supply,” Kono said.

Concerns persist over whether local governments can secure the adequate number of staff to arrange vaccination locations, as well as the medical staff who administer the vaccines.

Amid an increase in infection cases nationwide, medical workers may have no choice but to prioritize COVID-19 patients if the medical service system is under strain test.

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There are also concerns about the new system planned by the government to manage immunization records. Simulating in front of journalists the task of entering personal data into a tablet, Kono said, “It’s easy. No complicated operation is necessary. “

However, the system can increase the administrative burden on local government staff.

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