Last month, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government set up a walk-in COVID-19 vaccination site at a public facility in Shibuya Ward specifically to handle people between the ages of 16 and 39 who otherwise might have problems getting vaccination reservations through conventional means.

The site was prepared to administer 200 doses a day, but on Aug. 27, the first day, about 300 people were already waiting in line well before the venue opened, forcing staff to give out reservation tickets and turn away anyone who came later.

The next day, an even larger crowd showed up and only 1 out of 6 left vaccinated. The site adopted a lottery system that web magazine Litera at the time called “prehistoric,” since it required candidates to be physically present to get a number. This led to curious images of people waiting in line and staring at their phones to see if their number was picked. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike exacerbated the absurdity factor by complaining that people lining up for vaccinations were breaching social distancing protocols.

The metropolitan government’s miscalculation was based on an assumption that young people don’t want to get vaccinated, but that’s only true if you compare them to other demographics. Litera cites an Aug. 26 survey that found between 19% and 16.7% of people in their 20s and 30s, respectively, do not plan to get vaccinated, compared to 12.1% of men in their 50s and 10.5% of women in their 40s.

As Litera points out, the idea that young people are somehow averse to being immunized informed much of vaccine minister Taro Kono’s coronavirus-related work over the summer. In June he appeared in an online variety show with pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to promote vaccinations for young people. In July, he collaborated with popular YouTuber Hajime Shacho (4.5 million views) to do the same. On Twitter’s Spaces he had a conversation with X Japan leader Yoshiki about vaccines, and also did a press conference at talent agency Yoshimoto Kogyo asking for their help to “send a message” to Japan’s youth to make sure they get vaccinated.

Litera says these moves are performative rather than promotional. The magazine thinks Kono is more interested in selling his new book, but since no one in authority has clearly explained their reasons for thinking young people are avoiding the vaccine one may wonder if Kono’s activities are in fact self-serving when the real story concerning vaccines is the authorities’ failure to supply enough doses in a timely manner to everyone who wants them, a story the mainstream media hasn’t thoroughly explored. If Kono checked social media he would have found young people despairing over the fact that they can’t make reservations for the shot in the first place, mainly owing to the rollout schedule, which prioritizes older people.

Asahi Shimbun’s Aug. 27 report about the vaccination site presented a portrait of young Japanese people practically at their wit’s end regarding their inability to secure reservations. Two people Asahi interviewed at the Shibuya venue said they had read on social media about the line forming in the middle of the night and immediately rushed to get in it. One 26-year-old male company employee told the reporter, “It’s not true that young people don’t want the vaccine. It’s that there’s no chance to get one.” A 23-year-old woman who said she originally had not planned to get vaccinated changed her mind because she was worried about developing serious symptoms and having to stay at home because of the medical services crunch. After receiving her vaccination coupons in the mail she had tried to make reservations at designated facilities but failed.

There were even two high school students, including one whose mother drove her all the way to Shibuya from Shiki in Saitama Prefecture and who said to Asahi, “If I get infected, a hospital won’t be able to help me.”

These people were obviously paying attention to the news, which has been full of dire and sometimes conflicting stories of how bad the situation had become this summer due to the spread of the delta variant, a more virulent and dangerous virus than the one at large last year. An Aug. 30 Tokyo Shimbun report highlighted the increase in COVID-19 deaths among people trying to recuperate at home, some of whom were rushed to a hospital when their condition suddenly worsened but didn’t make it in time. In Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures, 31 people died under such circumstances between Aug. 1 and 29. Of the 19 who died in Tokyo, 18 were unvaccinated and two were in their 30s.

An Aug. 25 Asahi Shimbun report was even more detailed, describing a dozen recent cases of how people had died, whether they had underlying conditions and what kind of treatment, if any, they received. Of the 12, one was under 40.

These reports show that younger people are not invincible anymore, if they ever were. Last year, the conventional wisdom was that healthy people under 40 had little to fear from COVID-19, which may have been at the root of the subsequent belief that young people were “hesitant” about receiving the vaccine, but the situation has changed. Moreover, the actual emergence of vaccines in the meantime has driven home the notion that immunization is the only way out of the pandemic.

The Shibuya pop-up vaccination site has since started taking reservations online, which means the people running it have gotten wise, not only to the fact that most young people want to be immunized but also that, unlike the stereotype attached to older Japanese people, they can more readily find their way around a phone app or a website. The mission now, of course, is supplying them with the injections they so sorely desire.

See www.philipbrasor.com for addenda to Media Mix contributions.

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