Vaccination campaign helps Japan escape from Covid-19

Seven weeks before the Tokyo Olympics, only 3.5% of Japan’s population was fully vaccinated against Covid-19, but the situation completely changed after a few months.

At the beginning of June, while people in developed countries such as the US and Europe eagerly posted photos of themselves getting vaccinated against Covid-19 on social networks, many people in the Japanese capital Tokyo joked with each other that they had Should have waited until Christmas to get the shot.

As the Summer Olympics were about to open in Tokyo on July 23, Japan’s vaccination campaign was slow, despite the country’s ability to access an abundant vaccine supply. As a result, by the end of July, the number of new nCoV infections in Tokyo and the whole of Japan continuously set a record with the Delta mutation sweeping. Japan is facing the Covid-19 abyss, making many people no longer interested in the Olympics.

However, the situation is now completely reversed. The number of new infections per day nationwide has plummeted from a record of nearly 26,000, recorded on August 20, to less than 200 in recent weeks. On November 7, for the first time in 15 months, Japan did not record any new deaths.

In addition to factors such as wearing masks and social distancing, which have become an ingrained habit in Japanese society, and the theory that the virus may have “self-destructed” due to accumulating too many mutations, many scholars The achievement of vaccination is one of the reasons for the vertical decrease in the number of infections in Japan.

Not only has it weathered the initial tumultuous period in its vaccination campaign, but Japan now has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with around 76% of the population fully vaccinated.

An airline employee is vaccinated against Covid-19 at Haneda Airport, Tokyo, on June 14.  Photo: Reuters.

An airline employee is vaccinated against Covid-19 at Haneda Airport, Tokyo, on June 14. Photo: Reuters.

According to observers, The Olympics is the turning point event. In July, large protests were organized to demand the cancellation of the Olympics. Many Japanese people are worried that this will become a super-contagious event. Faced with the risk of the Olympics being greatly damaged, Japanese officials are determined to take action to promote the vaccination campaign, and the military is also deployed.

In early July, ahead of the Olympics, Japan injected about a million doses of the vaccine per day. By the end of that month, vaccination rates had increased dramatically, with more than 38% of the population getting at least one shot.

Aside from the logistical turning point, the key element of surprise was The change in Japanese attitudes towards vaccines. Vaccine reluctance in Japan has existed for decades, after vaccination-related incidents shook public confidence. This is also believed to be one of the reasons for the slow start of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign in Japan.

However, some experts say the initial chaos helps. “The shortage of vaccines appeared early on, leading to concerns that supply is not enough to meet demand, especially in the elderly community,” said Professor Kenji Shibuya, research director at the Main Research Foundation. book Tokyo, said.

According to Shibuya, the fear of not having a vaccine to inject has helped boost the rate of people getting vaccinated, especially the elderly group. With so many elderly people in other countries dying from the pandemic, Japanese people rushed to get injections before the supply ran out. Currently, 95% of people over 80 years old in Japan have received the Covid-19 vaccine.

The slow start also means younger people have to wait, while seeing hundreds of millions of people in other countries get the injections without any noticeable side effects. This makes them feel secure about the safety of the vaccine and gradually ready to go for it.

Unlike the US and Europe, Immunization program in Japan is not influenced by politics. “There is no politicization here. Vaccination is not linked to individual liberties. The public is not interested in any conspiracy theories,” Professor Shibuya said.

Immunization plays an extremely important role in Japan’s anti-epidemic achievements, but it is not the only factor. Before the vaccine was deployed, the death rate from Covid-19 in Japan was significantly lower than in the US or Europe. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the death rate from Covid-19 per 100,000 people in the US and Japan is 233.8 and 14.52 respectively.

“The death rate in Japan is really very low. In 2020, the life expectancy of Japanese people even increases, while other countries like the US, UK, Germany, France all decrease. This is very special.” Professor Testuo Fukawa, a sociologist at the Future Welfare Institute in Tokyo, said.

According to Fukawa, Japan’s low Covid-19 mortality rate and long life expectancy may be related to obesity. “Japanese people live very long lives, likely thanks to their eating habits and low rates of obesity,” said the professor. Only 3.6% of Japanese are classified as obese, almost the lowest in the world.

However, Fukawa said that on a population level, obesity is not an important factor affecting mortality from Covid-19. He assessed that Japan recorded fewer deaths simply because there were fewer infections. In other words, the risk of dying from Covid-19 in Japan is similar to Europe and the US, but the risk of contracting the virus is thought to be much lower, which seems to stem from people’s habits.

In the UK, almost no one is wearing a mask on the street, even in enclosed spaces. In Japan, everyone wears masks, even in parks or beaches. The driver who was alone in the car also wore a mask.

Hand sanitizer is also available everywhere, from convenience stores, public toilets, train stations, to restaurants and cafes. Before touching anyone or anything, people must wash their hands.

Makoto Shimoaraiso, a senior Japanese government official in charge of Covid-19 response efforts, said that the main factor contributing to Japan’s success in the fight against Covid-19 was the attitude of the people.

After witnessing Covid-19 causing grief around the world, the Japanese people put aside all doubts about the vaccine and trusted the message of the government.

Kiyoshi Goto, a retired employee, claims he is desperate for a booster shot, seeing an alarming increase in the number of infections in Europe. “I want a third injection, because our antibody levels can decrease,” the 75-year-old man insists.

Luster (Follow BBC/SFGates)

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