It’s really, really hard to get vaccinated in Japan.
Media reports described intermittent chaos. Internet connections broke down, telephone lines clogged. Hours of repeated attempts may have got you to a human voice – saying call back tomorrow, or next week. Frustration mounted. It was only in mid-April that vaccination got underway for those aged 65 and over. By that time Israel had vaccinated half its population at least once, and there was talk of achieving herd immunity. The U.S., desperately playing catch-up after a disastrously late start, had achieved 39 percent one-time vaccination. Japan’s rate, as of May 20, was 4.6 percent of residents over 65.
Alternatively, it’s really, really easy to get vaccinated in Japan. All you need, says Josei Jishin (June 8), is “connections.”
One day a man in his 50s got a call from a doctor friend. “How about it?” said the doctor. “There’s vaccine left over. Do you want to get jabbed?”
He did indeed. His work brings him into contact with many people and he is in constant fear of infection. “Of course!” he replied without the slightest hesitation.
He is not a medical worker, not over 65 and not suffering any chronic health problem that may make him a priority case. No matter. His doctor friend saw to the preliminary formalities, sending the necessary documents and setting things up with the hospital in question. The man showed up, was ushered through the system, and was in and out so fast, he says, he was “almost disappointed.”
“Connections” – the word inevitably suggests another: “corruption.” There’s plenty of that, but it’s not the whole story, Josei Jishin says. A medical professional it speaks to explains: “One bottle of Pfizer vaccine contains serum for five people. Once the bottle is open the serum is good for six hours. After that it can no longer be used.
“So let’s say,” he continues, “you’re a clinic with enough supply for 15 patients a day – and it’s the end of the day and only 14 have come. What do you do with the remaining dose – throw it out?”
That would be a dreadful waste. The first alternative that suggests itself is – call someone you know.
What that can amount to in practice, admits another medical professional, is, “you run down the list of people you receive traditional year-end gifts from.” It’s favoritism and it shouldn’t happen, but allowances perhaps should be made for a system unfolding under dauntingly stressful conditions.
“Almost all prominent people know someone” who can get them through the system fast and out of turn, Josei Jishin hears from a doctor. Favoritism aside, in the rush to get as many patients as possible vaccinated, identity checks tend to be perfunctory. A non-priority medical student, for example, might pose as a priority medical staffer, and get away with it.
“The system is full of holes,” says yet another of Josei Jishin’s medical sources. Here arises another question of priority. If plugging the holes means slowing the pace of vaccination, should moral lapses be thwarted, or winked at?© Japan Today