WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – Some rich nations that were praised last year for fighting the coronavirus are now far behind vaccinating people – and for some, especially in Asia, COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
In Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand, vaccination rates are declining in individual numbers. This is in stark contrast to the United States, where nearly half of people received at least one shot, and Britain and Israel, where the rate is even higher.
Not only are these three Pacific countries receiving the worst vaccination against COVID-19 among all developed countries, but they are also under a number of developing countries, such as Brazil and India, according to national data and the online scientific publication World of Data.
Australia, which does not provide a breakdown of its total number of vaccinations, also performs relatively poorly, as do many other places that were originally considered outstanding success in the fight against the virus, including Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan.
This may change as vaccination campaigns accelerate and supplies loosen. But in the meantime, previously successful countries are exposed to the virus and face a longer delay in reopening the world.
Japan, for example, has vaccinated only about 1% of its population and is facing a major new epidemic, barely ten weeks before it plans to host the already postponed Olympics – albeit without spectators from abroad.
The government announced last week an extension of the state of emergency until the end of the month, confirming more than 7,000 new cases on Saturday alone, the highest daily number since January.
Bureaucracy was part of the problem. Countries that have faced the number of deaths caused by the virus have often thrown out the rulebook, urgently allowed vaccinations to be allowed, and delayed second admissions beyond the recommended timeline to maximize their first number.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in person with Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, for early access to vaccines and called the military into the arms of the people. In the United States, some groups have distributed donuts, free drinks, and even marijuana to get people to put their fingers up.
Japan has gone through a more traditional approval process that required additional clinical trials for vaccines that have already been tested and widely used elsewhere.
And after he started getting shots, Japan faced a shortage of people with the administration. Under a conservative medical culture, people only trust doctors and nurses to do so.
Dentists are willing to help and be empowered, but they were not called. In Japan, it is still inconceivable to hire pharmacists from drugstores such as the United States, or from volunteers who have no medical background, just a short training, as in Britain.
New Zealand also went through its own approval process, finally giving Pfizer a great hand in February, two months after it was approved for emergency use by U.S. regulators.
Chris Hipkins, COVID-19’s response minister, promised last year that New Zealand was “at the top of the line” for vaccinations. Now he says the issue is care.
“We can’t move faster than we can bring vaccines into the country,” Hipkins told the Associated Press.
Pfizer declined to discuss how it could supply New Zealand more quickly, sending the questions back to the government.
Australia faced its own issues. Plans to use mainly Australian-made vaccines were hit hard in December when the promising candidate was halted development because it produced false positive HIV results.
The European Union then blocked the shipment of more than 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca to Australia in March, considering the EU’s needs to be greater. Australian regulators have switched from recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine to Pfizer vaccination as a preferred option for people under the age of 50, which has further slowed launch.
In South Korea, government officials initially insisted on waiting for vaccinations, saying the outbreak in the country was not as severe as in America or Europe. But as referrals have deteriorated in recent months, public pressure has intensified and officials have speeded up their talks with pharmaceutical companies.
Concerned about the possible shortage, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sej-kyun and other officials have started pointing fingers at measures taken by the U.S., Europe and India to tighten controls on vaccine exports to tackle major domestic epidemics.
Taiwan delivered the first shots to less than 1% of the population after receiving only a fraction of the millions of doses ordered. It has also developed its own COVID-19 vaccine, which officials say will be available in an emergency by the end of July.
After effectively eradicating the virus, Taiwan stepped up its emergency preparedness this week and introduced mass restrictions after finding new and unexplained cases in the community. President Tsai Ing-wen called on people not to panic.
Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccination expert at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, says there are some benefits to using a less vaccinated, more measurable approach to vaccination.
“It’s a lot easier to commit to something after seeing it used 100 million times,” she said.
The luxury of sticking to a three-week schedule for the second dose of Pfizer vaccine is likely to result in more people getting these recordings, he added. Those who waited a long time for the second doses were more likely to lose interest or continue their lives.
Petousis-Harris said New Zealand and many other rich countries that have set off slowly are likely to see their vaccination rates rise rapidly in the coming months as their campaigns pick up high.
Next year, he said, it is likely that developing nations will be left behind again.
Associate Press Wi Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul (South Korea), Huizhong Wu in Taipei (Taiwan) and Rod McGuirk in Canberra (Australia) contributed to this report.