• Kyodo, Staff Report

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Over 40% of a recently surveyed group of older Japanese people said they are unsure whether they will receive the coronavirus vaccine, indicating many remain wary of the shots.

The online survey conducted earlier this month on 423 older people who require home nursing care but do not suffer from dementia showed 43% were unsure about receiving shots while 15% were against it entirely.

Through their caregivers, who responded to the survey on their behalf, they cited worries about side effects and doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Around 43% of respondents said they will happily take the shots, according to the poll conducted from Feb. 1 to 12 by Internet Infinity Inc., a Tokyo-based health care service provider.

“Many elderly people who require nursing care have pre-existing conditions and face a higher risk of developing severe symptoms once infected,” said an Internet Infinity official. “It is necessary to raise their vaccination rate by informing them and encouraging them to receive a jab.”

Japan began its COVID-19 vaccination campaign earlier this month, starting with an initial group of 40,000 health care workers.

Vaccinations for a further 4.7 million medical workers is to begin in March, followed by 36 million people age 65 or older from April 12, according to the country’s vaccination timetable.

People with pre-existing conditions and those working at nursing homes will be next in line, followed by the general population.

COVID-19 vaccinations for older residents will begin on April 12 on a small scale before the rollout is ramped up nationwide from April 26. Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccination drive, said Friday that the government will complete the distribution of 72 million vaccines for 36 million people age 65 and older by the end of June, indicating that the inoculations for the general public are unlikely to start until July at the earliest. That would appear to be a significant setback for Japan, which was initially hoping to procure enough shots for all residents under the current two-shot regimen by the end of June. One of the main roadblocks is that Pfizer Inc.’s vaccines, which are exported from its factory in Belgium, have been subjected to European Union export controls on vaccines produced within the bloc.

Kono said the distribution schedule comes based on a rough agreement with vaccine supplier Pfizer on the assumption of getting approval from the European Union on shipments. Japan launched the vaccination drive on Feb. 17, three days after the health ministry formally approved the vaccine, jointly developed with Germany’s BioNtech SE. As of Friday, 28,530 front-line medical workers at 100 mostly state-run hospitals got the jabs, the health ministry data showed.

So far, there have been three reports of possible severe side effects, but a health ministry committee said there are no major concerns over the vaccine’s safety as the three patients recovered from their symptoms the day after receiving the shots. A 47-year-old woman with neurofibromatosis had chills, while a 40-year-old woman with no pre-existing conditions felt listlessness and fever. A patient with a food allergy, whose age and sex were withheld, had hives.

Of those who were undecided about vaccination or determined not to be inoculated, 77% pointed to “worries about safety or side effects,” while 39% said they “don’t know if (the vaccinations) are effective.”

Some of the same group said mobility difficulties might prove to be a hurdle for them to access vaccination centers, while others worried they may come into contact with infected people when traveling to receive the vaccination.

Asked what might be a deciding factor for the undecided or unwilling, 44% pointed to an increase in the number of vaccinated people in Japan, while 39% noted their families or people close to them getting jabs would influence them. Some 27% said a request by a family member would make them more likely to get a jab.

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