‘I was anxious at first’: How Covid helped vaccine-skeptical Japan overcome hesitation | Japan | Today Headlines

‘I was anxious at first’: How Covid helped vaccine-skeptical Japan overcome hesitation | Japan

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Earlier this year, as coronavirus cases in Japan began another disturbing increase, the country appeared determined to uphold its reputation as a vaccine backwater.

Restrained by additional clinical trials, the deployment of its Covid-19 vaccine has been several months behind schedule compared to the United Kingdom and other countries. And when he finally started offering injections in February, the doses were delivered at an extremely slow pace, starting with medical staff and the elderly. Tens of millions more were convinced that it would take several months before they were within reach of a health worker ‘s needle.

But today, Japan ranks among the most immune countries to Covid in the world. As of Friday, more than 94.5 million people, or nearly three-quarters of its 125 million people, had received both hits – a higher rate than the UK and several other countries which have started much larger deployments early.

Daily cases of Covid-19 have dropped. As of Saturday, 202 new infections were reported nationwide, up from more than 25,000 just three months ago. Tokyo had 24 cases, up from a record 15,773 on August 13, days after the closing ceremony of the 2020 Olympics.

Japan Covid Chart

Months of emergency measures, including a ban on the sale of alcohol in restaurants and bars, have been lifted and people are returning in large numbers to sports and other events. Booster injections will be offered from next month, starting with medical workers.

The hype over fears over the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine in the 1990s and, more recently, with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, helped make Japan one of the least vaccine safe countries in the world, according to a 2020 Lancet study.

Less than 30% of people were convinced vaccines were safe, compared to at least 50% of Americans, according to the study. A poll carried out in February by the Kyodo news agency found that 27.4% of those polled said they did not want to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

But data provided by the Prime Minister’s Office shows high vaccination rates against Covid-19 in all age groups. More than 92% of people in their 60s have experienced double injections, along with almost 70% of those in their 30s.

Pedestrians watch the seasonal illuminations in Tokyo as the crowds return to the capital.
Pedestrians watch the seasonal illuminations in Tokyo as the crowds return to the capital. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama / EPA

Most surprisingly, however, is the adoption by young people, a cohort believed to be more influenced by anti-vax plots and social media misinformation. The most recent data shows that 5.4 million children between the ages of 12 and 19 – or 60.7% of that age group – have received two doses.

Nanako Tokunaga, a university student in Tokyo, was at first skeptical when pharmaceutical companies announced they had developed Covid-19 vaccines late last year.

“I was worried about the side effects, and there were a lot of rumors on social media that they were causing infertility,” said Tokunaga, 20.

Reassured by pro-vaccination comments from politicians and doctors, Tokunaga received both blows in August. Many of his friends have done the same since the start of the summer, when TV shows showed long lines outside a walk-in vaccination center in Shibuya, a Tokyo neighborhood popular with young people. “It made us think seriously about the benefits of having the vaccine,” she said. “I am happy that I decided to go ahead.

Japan’s complicated relationship with vaccines can be attributed to the success of class action lawsuits filed against the Ministry of Health by a small number of parents who claimed – without presenting causal evidence – that their children had suffered serious effects. side effects of the MMR vaccine in the 1990s.

But Professor Kentaro Iwata, head of the infectious disease division at Kobe University Hospital, said it was wrong to characterize the Japanese as fundamentally hesitant about vaccination, noting the high rate of influenza vaccination.

“Japanese bureaucrats, however, are quite hesitant when it comes to advocating for vaccines, especially after the government lost lawsuits over side effects from the MMR vaccine,” he said.

Iwata criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic, but praised its approach to vaccinations. “The Covid vaccination program has been a great success,” he said. “I have never seen something so pragmatic in the history of vaccination in Japan.”

At first, however, even government politicians and health experts were cautious about encouraging people to receive the Covid vaccine. The turning point came this summer, as Tokyo prepared to host the 2020 Olympics in disregard of public opinion.

“The government insisted that the Olympics be held, which scared people,” said Riko Muranaka, senior lecturer at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Medicine. “Japan wouldn’t be in the right position they are in now without the Olympics.

A man dressed as a Minion on a motorcycle during Halloween celebrations in Shibuya, Tokyo
People celebrate Halloween in Shibuya, an area of ​​Tokyo popular with young people where vaccine uptake has increased. Photograph: Damon Coulter / Sopa / Rex / Shutterstock

“There was also an element of ‘negativity’ in getting people to get vaccinated. People decided that they should get the vaccine so that they could tell others that they were not a threat. It was out of social courtesy, and for protection, of course.

The change in mentality is not limited to the Covid-19 vaccine. On Friday, a panel said the health ministry should resume actively recommending the HPV vaccine – which is universally recognized as safe and effective – to adolescent girls. Japan withdrew the recommendation – but kept the vaccine available for free – in 2013 after sensational media reports of suspected serious side effects.

Although no causal link between the vaccine and side effects has been established, the HPV inoculation rate fell from 70% in 2013 to less than 1%.

Hinako Sakikawa, a 19-year-old university student, said she initially shared her age group’s skepticism of the Covid-19 vaccine. “It was new, so I was anxious at first,” she said. “I thought it could harm my health or even threaten my life.”

Sakikawa, who said that she and almost all of her friends who were initially hesitant about vaccination were now completely trapped, admitted that peer pressure influenced their decision.

“There was definitely a feeling that we should have the vaccine, since everyone seemed to have it, and we promised to meet once we were double stung. Now it’s easier to go out, meet friends, and do whatever we couldn’t do before.

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