Japan will soon launch a system to allocate extra doses to the most vaccine-starved municipalities as it seeks to rectify the ongoing shortage of Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 shots, which has thwarted some local governments’ rollout efforts.
Starting in August, the central government will set aside a certain quantity of Pfizer doses that prefectures can distribute to municipalities that need them the most.
The move comes amid simmering frustrations among some municipalities that their rollout schedule has been thrown into disarray due to a shortage of doses.
“The vaccine rollout is proceeding at such a fast pace that some municipalities have been forced to stop accepting new inoculation appointments or just cancel them. We’re terribly sorry” for the situation, Taro Kono, minister in charge of Japan’s vaccine rollout, told reporters on Tuesday.
For the first two weeks of August, the government is slated to deliver 11.7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine nationwide.
Of that total, it will designate about 20% — or around 2.69 million shots — as “adjustable slots” that can be used at the discretion of prefectures. The remaining 80% will continue to be allocated to municipalities based on their population.
The prevailing view is that the government’s emphasis on fairness among municipalities has resulted in vaccines being distributed based primarily on population size, even as some municipalities have gone through vaccine stocks much quicker than others.
Officials believe municipalities that have moved slowly with their rollout have sat on a large quantity of surplus doses, leaving the most efficient municipalities without enough.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato revealed earlier this week that of the 88 million doses distributed nationwide thus far, about 40 million remained unused, presumably stockpiled by municipalities or medical institutions.
The government will also give prefectures access to its database that keeps track of the inoculation progress made by each municipality, enabling them to have a more accurate grasp of the situation.
The ongoing supply shortage is threatening to erode confidence in the rollout, which appeared to take off after an excruciatingly slow start.
For months, the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pressured local governments to accelerate their inoculation drive by saddling them with an ambitious deadline and a nationwide target of 1 million daily shots.
But Suga’s efforts may have borne too much fruit: According to Kono, some of the most overachieving municipalities have even pulled off a pace that would amount to a nationwide average of 2 million shots per day.
“I’m sorry that those municipalities with extremely fast progress now have to put the brakes on their rollout,” Kono said.
In a proposal to the central government, the National Governors’ Association condemned its lack of foresight.
“The government should recognize and take seriously the fact that municipalities have made an all-out effort to speed up their inoculation drive in accordance with its policy, only to be left in the lurch and thrown into chaos,” it said.
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