Many local governments across Japan have started accepting coronavirus vaccination reservations from older residents at full scale, but some have been thrown into confusion by a flood of applications.
Municipalities accepting reservations on a first-come, first-served basis have seen their vaccination booking hotlines overwhelmed and booking websites taken down as applications poured in.
The online system to book a vaccine crashed in many places including parts of Tokyo and the city of Minoo, Osaka Prefecture, on Wednesday, because of a global problem with U.S. cloud computing vendor Salesforce.com Inc.
Salesforce chief technology officer Parker Harris said on Twitter that the company was experiencing a “major disruption,” later updating to say services had been mostly restored.
The country’s vaccine rollout for people aged 65 or older began in full swing this week. Telecommunications companies restricted phone calls to local government booking hotlines Monday to prevent network congestion.
In Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, the municipal government set up a special booking center where residents can visit to make appointments in person.
But it stopped accepting bookings at the center on Monday after many older residents flocked to the center to wait in line through the night.
Meanwhile, new businesses emerged offering to book vaccination appointments on behalf of those with vaccine tickets. In the case of one business, an operator can receive request for help via Twitter.
The operator said it has made more than 200 bookings across the country. The fee is ¥1,000, and many requests came from the children of older people, according to the operator.
But cases of fraud have also emerged. A woman in her 80s living in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, received a phone call April 26 from a person offering to make a vaccination reservation for ¥2,000. The caller claimed to be a member of an organization, which turned out to be fictitious, with a name resembling the Japanese Red Cross Society, according to the Aizuwakamatsu Municipal Government. The woman reported the call to the city’s government.
The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan has issued a warning.
According to the center, there have been reports of a smartphone message saying, “We can put you higher on the vaccine waiting list for ¥100,000,” and a phone call offering a China-made vaccine for tens of thousands of yen.
Meanwhile, the city of Kama, Fukuoka Prefecture, started allotting inoculation slots for people aged 75 or older for June and later through a lottery system rather than a first-come, first-served system.
Keio University professor Morimitsu Kurino, a microeconomics expert, said municipalities have had their servers crash as children and other relatives of those with vaccine tickets are rushing to access booking websites on their behalf.
The current situation in which vaccination booking agents are increasing “goes against the principle of equality in public service,” Kurino said. “Holding lotteries will help mitigate risks and avoid unnecessary confusion.”
Japan has only inoculated 2.8% of its population, the lowest rate among wealthy countries despite an ambitious government target of giving shots to its 36 million older people by July, when the Olympics Games are due to open in Tokyo.
The campaign was initially slow because of tight supplies of imported doses of Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine but has since been plagued by a shortage of manpower and other logistical snags.
Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccine rollout, has urged the public to be patient.
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