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A year following the arrival of the 新型コロナウイルス (shingata koronauirusu, novel coronavirus), a new katakana word has been popping up in Japanese headlines: ワクチン (wakuchin, vaccine).

While vaccinations against COVID-19 had already begun in other Western countries around the world, Japan saw its first vaccinations last week. 医療従事者をはじめ、高齢者や基礎疾患のある人を優先に接種が進められる (Iryō jūjisha o hajime, kōreisha ya kiso shikkan no aru hito o yūsen ni sesshu ga susumerareru, Starting with health care workers, the elderly and people with chronic conditions will be prioritized for receiving a vaccination). Your turn will come eventually, so it may be a good time to get used to the language of 接種の流れ (sesshu no nagare, the flow of inoculations).

[First lesson: 流れ (nagare, flow) is often used in nature — 川の流れ (kawa no nagare) means the flow of a river — but is also used in the flow of a system, such as in the term 流れ作業 (nagare sagyō, assembly line).]

The process starts with the delivery of 接種券 (sesshuken, inoculation tickets) sent by the municipality in which you are registered. As the ワクチン requires 2回の接種 (ni-kai no sesshu, two doses) you will see two sets of 接種券 and, to their right, two blank spaces to later receive your 接種済証 (sesshuzumishō, certificates of vaccination). After the form arrives, you will be able to make a reservation at a vaccination site via telephone or the internet.

On the day of your 接種 (sesshu, inoculation/vaccination), bring your クーポン and 身分証明書 (mibun shōmeisho, identification card) with you to the venue. You will then be given a 検温 (ken’on, temperature check) and asked to 予診票を記入する (yoshin-hyō o kinyū suru, fill out a medical questionnaire).

The 予診票 asks for your 氏名 (shimei, name), 住所 (jūsho, address), 生年月日 (seinengappi, date of birth) and some health-related questions such as 最近1ヶ月以内に熱が出たり、病気にかかったりしましたか? (Saikin ikkagetsu inai ni netsu ga detari, byōki ni kakattari shimashita ka?, Have you had a fever or sickness within the past month?) and けいれん /ひきつけを起こしたことがありますか? (Keiren/hikitsuke o okoshita koto ga arimasu ka?, Have you ever had convulsions?)

You will also be asked about your previous experiences with 接種: これまでに予防接種を受けて具合が悪くなったことはありますか? (Kore made ni yobō sesshu o ukete guai ga warukunatta koto wa arimasu ka?, Up until now, have you ever felt poorly/sick after receiving a vaccination?)

After the 予診票 is completed and a doctor has cleared you, you’ll be able to get the ワクチン. Of course that means you’ll need to get a 注射 (chūsha, injection/shot/jab). Unlike the 注射 for the seasonal flu, which is traditionally a 皮下注射 (hika chūsha, subcutaneous injection) in Japan, the ワクチン for COVID-19 is a 筋肉注射 (kinniku chūsha, intramuscular injection). That means the 注射の角度 (chūsha no kakudo, angle of injection) will be different. As the kanji suggest, the former is administered to the layer underneath the skin while the latter is delivered to the muscle, so the direction of the needle is almost vertical.

In terms of the process, there are a few simple steps you’ll be asked to follow. According to a 看護師 (kangoshi, nurse) who works for a hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture, normally patients are asked: 肩のあたりまで袖をまくってください (kata no atari made sode o makutte kudasai, please roll up your sleeve to the shoulder). Then, the nurse may ask: 手を腰にあててください (te o koshi ni atete kudasai, put your hand to your waist) so they can inject the vaccine properly into your upper arm.

Nurses will normally warn you before they 注射する (chūsha suru, administer the shot). According to the nurse from Kanagawa, words directly associated with “injections” or which conjure the idea of 痛み (itami, pain) are avoided to keep the patient calm. Instead of using verbs like 注射する, 刺す (sasu, to stick/stab) and 打つ (utsu, to inject/strike), you are likely to hear more indirect phrases. For example, when the first ワクチン was administered in Japan, the doctor said 「チクっとしますよ」 (chikutto shimasu yo, there will be a slight prick) before the injection.

Once you’ve received the vaccine, you may be told おしまいです (oshimai desu, it’s completed) and given a cotton ball with the instructions: ぎゅっとおさえていてください (gyutto osaete-ite kudasai, please hold [on the point of injection] firmly). Additionally, you may be asked to wait up to 30 minutes at the site for a 経過観察 (keika kansatsu, follow-up observation) in case you have a reaction like an allergy to the vaccine. Even if no side effects are observed after your injection, 過激な運動は避け、安静にしてください (kagekina undō wa sake, ansei ni shitekudasai, please refrain from excessive exercise and stay relaxed).


The right verb for the right injection

A few other words and phrases you may hear in the headlines as vaccines make their way to your neck of the woods.

  • 努力義務 (doryoku gimu): A term that literally means “obligatory effort.” While getting vaccinations used to be mandatory, a revision to the law in 1994 changed the wording to stress that people must “make the effort” to get one. However, 妊婦は努力義務の対象から除かれる (ninpu wa doryoku gimu no taishō kara nozokareru, pregnant women are excluded from the obligation to make an effort).
  • 予防接種を受ける (yobō sesshu o ukeru): That refers to the act of receiving a vaccination. A specific disease will often be mentioned when this phrase is used: インフルエンザの予防接種を受ける (infuruenza no yobō sesshu o ukeru, to receive a vaccination against the seasonal flu).
  • ワクチンを打つ (wakuchin o utsu): A lot of Japanese terms adhere to established combinations, and ワクチン (wakuchin, vaccination) is normally paired with 打つ (utsu, to give a shot/to hit). 予防接種 (Yobō sesshu, vaccination) tends to be paired with 受ける (ukeru, to receive).
  • 針を刺す (hari o sasu): This noun-verb combo expresses the actual injection of a needle into the body. The verb, 刺す (sasu, to stab), is also used as an adjective to describe pain: 指を動かすたびに、刺すような痛みが走った (Yubi o ugokasu tabi ni, sasu yō na itami ga hashitta, Whenever I moved my finger, a stabbing pain would shoot through it).
  • 集団接種 (shūdan sesshu, group vaccination) and 個別接種 (kobetsu sesshu, individual vaccination): Using the nouns 集団 (shūdan, group) and 個別 (kobetsu, individual), respectively, these terms are used to refer to the scenario in which people receive their vaccines. 集団接種 is used when people are meant to go and get their shot at a public facility such as a school, gymnasium or community center. 個別接種 is used when you are meant to go to a local clinic or other private site.

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