Asian and Pacific rim countries did well to control COVID-19, but why are they slow on vaccination?

Countries that were able to control the spread of the virus are among the slowest in the developed world to vaccinate their citizens, while countries like Britain and United States, those that witnessed severe outbreaks, succeed in inoculating majority of the population.

While Pacific Rim countries adopted a range of methods to prevent a disaster, for instance, South Korea tested widely, New Zealand and Australia announced complete lockdowns, in Japan, many people isolated themselves and heeded the instructions of wearing a mask. On the other hand, when the pandemic began, first Europe and then the United States suffered catastrophically through high infection rates and deaths.

Now, the roles have been switched. The countries that were successful in defeating the virus, are among the slowest in the developed world to vaccinate their citizens, while countries like the United States and Britain are going way ahead in terms of inoculations. The United States has inoculated a fourth of its population, while Britain has already vaccinated half of its population.

In comparison, Australia and South Korea have vaccinated less than 3% of their populations, and in New Zealand and Japan, less than a per cent of their population has received a shot. Some countries are taking advantage of the luxury of time. Their comparatively low infection rates and death counts, and their dependence on vaccines that are developed and manufactured in other elsewhere.

Now, the delays have failed in their public health and postponement of economic recoveries as highly contagious variants of the virus emerge. The bottlenecks have slowed the shipments of vaccines around the world.

According to a report by The New York Times, nowhere is the risk of a pandemic greater than in Japan which is facing the rise in covid cases and deaths as the start of the delayed Tokyo Olympics is less than 100 days away.

Meanwhile, Olympic organizers have said that they can manage the games safely by adopting the kind of voluntary measures that Japanese authorities have relied on to manage the pandemic. But these efforts are showing tensions as Japan reported more than 4500 new infections on Friday. The general public is not even close to getting fully vaccinated by the opening ceremony in July. The game organizers have said that they will not require athletes, foreign journalists or Olympic officials to be vaccinated to enter japan. Despite this, overseas spectators have been barred from the Olympics by the organizers.

Japan, Australia and South Korea have fallen behind the vaccination schedules that they set out months ago. In Australia and Japan, the authorities have blamed Europe for supply problems and the slow rollout of vaccines. European Union failed to deliver 3.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines according to Australian authorities. Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the European Union said that only 250,000 doses had been withheld from Australia by Italy. But officials in Australia say that the vaccines have simply not arrived. As it advised against injecting AstraZeneca vaccine to people younger than 50 after reports of blood clots, Australia has faced further complications. Meanwhile, the European Union has authorised the shipment of more than 39 million doses to Japan.

In Japan, where only doctors and nurses are allowed to administer the vaccines, less than 25% of healthcare workers have been vaccinated, even though the jabs began in February. Dr Eiji Kusumi, director of the Navitas Clinic, a network of private medical clinics in Tokyo, told The New York Times  that his workers had not been inoculated and said, “This is the same as World War II, when the public was told, without bullets or food, to fight with bamboo spears.”

The residents in South Korea and elsewhere are worried that the country’s early success in managing the virus is being slowly destroyed by the shortage of vaccines. “I get frustrated when I see other countries like the U.S starting to bounce back to normal. Koreans have been very obedient in abiding by the government’s pandemic regulations. And yet we are struggling to secure enough vaccines for everyone. We are going downhill,” a 23-year-old research analyst in Seoul,  Suh Gaeun told The New York Times.

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