The government said Tuesday it was looking to add emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and clinical laboratory technicians to a growing list of health care workers tapped to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, as municipalities continue to grapple with shortages of staff able to perform the task.
The move follows a similar step taken last month by the health ministry to allow dentists to perform vaccinations alongside doctors and nurses.
Japan’s relatively cautious approach contrasts with countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, where an array of health care personnel besides doctors and nurses — including dentists, pharmacists, medical students and EMTs — have been deployed to help staff inoculation programs.
The attempt to further expand the scope of professionals eligible to perform COVID-19 vaccinations was aimed at addressing the manpower shortage felt among local governments conducting vaccine rollouts, top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told a regular briefing Tuesday.
“We have been hearing from municipalities that there are not enough people who can administer the vaccine shots,” Kato said.
It remains to be seen how much of a boost the addition of EMTs and laboratory technicians will be to the ongoing efforts by municipalities to find staff able to administer COVID-19 vaccines.
EMTs are similar to paramedics in Western countries who provide emergency medical care on ambulances, for example. Clinical laboratory technicians are medical staff who conduct various medical tests, including running blood tests and biopsies, and perform MRI scans. They are qualified to take blood from patients.
The number of people who are licensed as clinical laboratory technicians currently stands at about 200,000 in Japan, while licensed EMTs total about 64,000, according to Kato.
But since these professionals are already tasked with pandemic-related responsibilities — from conducting polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to treating critically ill patients in ambulances — not all of them can be deployed for the additional role.
With the act of administering COVID-19 vaccines considered a medical practice, it is technically only doctors who are legally permitted to give the shots under the Medical Practitioners’ Law. Nurses can also perform the procedure but must be supervised by doctors.
However, the health ministry issued a notice last month clarifying that dentists — who are not licensed as doctors — administering COVID-19 vaccines can be legal under certain conditions. Those included their having undergone necessary training on intramuscular injections, a procedure required for performing COVID-19 vaccinations, in advance.
The government, Kato said, is considering taking similar steps to clear any legal hurdles for EMTs and clinical laboratory technicians so they too can administer vaccines during the pandemic. The health ministry is reportedly set to convene a panel of experts soon to discuss those arrangements.
Separately, Kato also said the government would seek to enlist the help of pharmacists and clinical radiologists where appropriate. Arrangements would be made with their respective industry groups so that pharmacists can assist with tasks such as preliminary medical examinations at vaccination centers, and so clinical radiologists can observe those vaccinated after their shots, he said.
Talk of possibly deploying pharmacists to administer the jabs has made headlines in Japan lately, with Taro Kono, the state minister overseeing Japan’s vaccine rollout, having floated the idea.
But since their work doesn’t involve them performing injections of any kind, health ministry official Taro Toki suggested while speaking to reporters during a briefing in April that the odds of pharmacists being tapped to administer vaccines were slim.
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