Some wealthy nations that were most praised last year for controlling the coronavirus are now lagging far behind in getting their people vaccinated — and some, especially in Asia, are seeing cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
In Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, the vaccination rates are languishing in the single figures. That is in sharp contrast to the U.S., where nearly half of all people have gotten at least one shot, and Britain and Israel, where rates are even higher.
Not only do those three Pacific countries rank worst among all developed nations in vaccinating against Covid-19, they also rank below many developing countries such as Brazil and India, according to national figures and the online scientific publication Our World in Data.
Australia, which isn’t providing a full breakdown of its vaccination numbers, is also performing comparatively poorly, as are several other places initially considered standout successes in battling the virus, including Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan.
That could change as vaccination campaigns gather pace and supplies loosen. But meanwhile, previously successful countries are being left exposed to the virus and face longer delays in reopening to the world.
Japan, for instance, has fully vaccinated only about 1 percent of its population and is facing a significant new outbreak just 10 weeks before it is to host the already delayed Olympic Games — although without spectators from abroad.
The government last week announced an extension of a state of emergency through the end of the month and confirmed more than 7,000 new cases on Saturday alone, the highest daily number since January.
Bureaucracy has been part of the problem. Countries that faced mounting death tolls from the virus often threw out the rulebook, rushing through emergency vaccine approvals and delaying second shots past the recommended timeline in order to maximize the number getting their first.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally negotiated with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to get early access to vaccines, and called in the military to get them in people’s arms. In the U.S., some groups handed out doughnuts, free drinks and even marijuana to get people to roll up their sleeves.
Japan went through a more traditional approval process that required an extra layer of clinical testing for vaccines that had already been tested elsewhere and were being widely used.
And once it did start getting shots, Japan faced a shortage of people to administer them. Under the conservative medical culture, people only trust doctors and nurses enough to do so.
Dentists are willing to help and are authorized, but have not been called upon. Getting shots from pharmacists at drug stores like in the U.S. or from volunteers with no medical background other than a brief training like in Britain remains unthinkable in Japan.