Ito Takatoshi, deputy vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Finance of Japan (1999–2001), Professor of International and Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and Adjunct Professor and Professor Emeritus at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), in The Japan Times (June 18, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson)
As of June 15, Japan had the second worst vaccination record among the 38 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, with 20.9 doses per 100 people. Contrast that with the United Kingdom’s 106.1 doses per 100 people and the US rate of 93.3 doses per 100.
Why is Japan lagging so far behind the rest of the OECD? For starters, the government was late in securing purchase agreements with vaccine producers, not least because the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare was reluctant to provide rapid emergency approval for the new vaccines.
Japan has a history of controversy over vaccine side effects. During the Covid-19 crisis, the authorities insisted that a clinical trial for vaccines be conducted in Japan before approval, even though large-scale randomized controlled trials had already been undertaken elsewhere. Another obstacle for Japan’s vaccination program is the rule that only medical doctors and nurses may administer doses.
Even if the state of emergency in Tokyo and Osaka is lifted as expected, there is no guarantee that another wave will not demand new lockdowns soon. With the Olympic Games scheduled to be held from July 23 to August 8, and the Paralympic Games from August 24 to September 5, such a wave could be more like a tsunami.
Without herd immunity (or something close to it) in Japan, hosting the Tokyo Games is a risky bet. Suga could win big: If the games are a success, and infections do not rise, he is more likely to be re-elected as the leader of his Liberal Democratic Party, at which point he might even call a snap general election. But that does not change the fact that he is willing to gamble with people’s health, livelihoods and lives.