Japan overtakes US on Covid-19 vaccination despite starting months later

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Japan has given first doses of a Covid-19 vaccine to 63.6 per cent of its population, surpassing the US in the proportion of those who have had at least one shot of a vaccine despite starting months behind.

Japan’s progress now puts the United States last among Group of Seven (G-7) nations when it comes to the proportion of the population with at least one dose, after vaccine hesitancy squandered the country’s head start. About 63.1 per cent of the US population has had at least their first shot, and 53.8 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Japan has administered a total of 145.8 million shots, with more than 51 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, according to government figures released on Tuesday (Sept 14).

The vaccination roll-out in Japan started off slow and late compared with that of other developed nations, but has progressed quickly since early summer.

Japan hit a million shots administered per day in mid-June, and has remained at around that pace since then while battling a wave of infections driven by the predominance of the Delta variant. The United States, meanwhile, got a head start but has not been able to maintain the pace.

Japan’s vaccinated population is concentrated among its elderly, who were initially prioritised. Near 90 per cent of those 65 or older have had both jabs.

The country is still rushing to inoculate younger people, who have been most affected in the most recent and worst-yet wave of coronavirus infections.

As shots in Japan are still being delivered at a brisk pace, it is too early to tell how much hesitancy may affect the vaccination programme in the country, which has a testy history with vaccines.

Some countries, including the US, have seen vaccinations stall as the issue becomes politicised or due to the influence of anti-vaccine fringe groups.

Last week, US President Joe Biden announced a vaccine mandate for all federal employees, healthcare workers and employees at large companies in an effort to boost the number of vaccinated Americans.

Japanese officials are seeking to vaccinate all those who are eligible and willing by November, with the goal of having at least 80 per cent of the population vaccinated.

Mr Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccine roll-out, is currently running to lead Japan’s ruling party and become its next prime minister. As Mr Kono announced his official bid last Friday, he said Japan would be among the top of the G-7 countries in October in terms of vaccination rates.

France currently tops the G-7 with the highest rate of fully vaccinated residents, at around 72 per cent.

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