Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about coverage of local governments’ handling of the vaccine rollout. The main theme would seem to be that, while each municipality is running things their own way, they all have to deal with the same issues as determined by the central government. As pointed out in the column, some localities have had trouble addressing glitches in the overall program, but for the most part it seems they’ve managed to keep their eyes on the prize, so to speak, and have a done a capable job considering the difficulties forced upon them by the various government ministries administering the rollout.
Thus it might be useful to explain my own experience. Having turned 65 last December, I was in the third designated group in the city of Inzai, Chiba Prefecture, where I live, population about 100,000. The first group was, of course, medical workers, and the second was people over 75. I received my packet in the middle of April informing me that I could start making reservations for shots on May 6, either at a designated clinic or at the city’s mass vaccination center, which would be located in an empty storefront in one of the malls that line route 464 (Inzai has quite a few malls with empty storefronts). The packet contained the “coupons” with my name printed on them in katakana. These coupons, based on my resident card data, are mandated by the central government so that only those who belong to the designated cohort can get vaccinated first. The problem with this system, as pointed out in the column, is that it doesn’t account for exceptional circumstances, such as people not showing up for reservations or not even making reservations in the first place. From what I understand, municipalities are given a set amount of doses depending on their population (though, right at the beginning, apparently, every municipality got the exact same number of doses regardless of population—about 1,500) and have to make do on their own, so they need to be creative with regard to cancellations and no-shows.
Looking over the designated clinics that would be administering vaccinations, I noticed that many had a stipulation: “kakaritsuke no kata yusen,” which I took to mean “priority given to regular patients.” This seemed odd to me because the Japan Medical Association has successfully prevented any kind of GP system from taking root in Japan, so how to define “regular patient” in this instance? In any event, I don’t have a clinic I go to “regularly,” and reservations for clinics have to be made by directly calling each one, which seemed like a lot of work, so I opted for the mass vaccination venue, which took reservations online. Unfortunately, I waited once my turn came around and didn’t log in to the reservation home page with the ID number and password the city sent me in my packet until May 7, at which point every available slot through to the end of July had been filled. I would have to wait until May 18 to try again. (Starting at 1 p.m., since, for some strange reason, the city decided to run maintenance for the home page between 9 a.m. and 12 noon that day.)
Kicking myself for not having logged in on May 6, I made sure I was home on May 18 and immediately went to the site when the clock struck 1. The original message said that they would start taking reservations for August and for earlier dates “if they were available.” Luckily, as it turned out, there were extra slots available starting in May, which obviously means Inzai had either gotten a lot more doses since May 6 or a lot more doctors (much less likely). In any case, it took about ten minutes to actually make a reservation because of the internet traffic: I would click on an open time slot and then the page would freeze, forcing me to go back to the beginning of the process. Eventually, I was able to get a reservation for May 28 at 10:15 a.m. and signed off.
But, of course, I wasn’t finished. I also had to make a reservation for the second vaccination, but I misread the Japanese instructions, which I thought said that you should make the reservation after finishing the first one, but what it actually said was that you should make the second one after making the first one. Finally, I figured this out and logged back on a few hours later. The earliest reservation I could get for a second dose was July 19.
On May 28, I had to bring my coupons, a photo ID, and the filled out questionnaire about my medical situation to the vaccination venue in the shopping mall. It was a very orderly process. Twenty minutes before my reservation I lined up with the others in my time slot and went through a brief gauntlet of preparations. First my temperature was checked. Then a woman checked my ID and my reservation on the printout and passed me on to another woman who affixed my coupon to the questionnaire. I have no underlying medical conditions, take no regular medications, and have no problematic allergies (though I didn’t tell them I had undergone sensitivity treatment for allergies when I was an adolescent). This, apparently, made me unique among those in my time slot, because I was the only person passed through to the “blue line” that led directly to the vaccination booth. Everyone else had to go through the “red line” to another desk where they had to explain their underlying medical condition and/or the medications they took.
In the booth, a male doctor asked me a few redundant questions about being allergic to medications and whether I had been ill recently. He then left the booth, presumably to go to another (there were five set up), while a female nurse asked me if I had a problem with alcohol, meaning on my arm, and then explained briefly where the jab would go. It was over very quickly and almost imperceptible. Then I had to go to a young man in a white coat who affixed the Pfizer lot number for the vaccine I’d received onto my vaccination record. He waved me into an area with chairs where I was to wait at least 15 minutes to make sure there were no immediate adverse side effects. A sign on the wall told me it was OK to take a bath but not OK to jog. I wondered if bike riding was all right, since I had ridden to the mall.
When my time was up I went to the booth at the exit to check out and the woman, noticing that my second vaccination wasn’t until July 19, asked me if I wanted an earlier date. I said sure. Another woman came over to me and led me to a table where she consulted a ledger. I would have to wait at least three weeks after the first dose and the earliest open slot after that was June 24 at 2:45 in the afternoon. I took it. She cancelled my previous reservation and confirmed the new one.
From check-in to the time I left the whole process took 35 minutes, and while there were quite a few people from my time slot still in the venue, everything went very smoothly. More importantly, it’s obvious from the fact that they moved up my second dose reservation almost a full month that exigencies were changing day-by-day. I can’t speak for other localities, but Inzai was on top of things with the possible exception of not providing any information in a language other than Japanese. I know of other foreigners who live in the city and while the ones I’ve met are mostly fluent speakers not all of them can read Japanese at a level that is necessary to take advantage of the vaccine program.
As for side effects, my arm ached for the rest of the day, but that was it.