WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Some wealthy countries that were most praised last year for controlling the coronavirus are now far behind in getting their people vaccinated – and some, especially in Asia, are seeing cases of COVID -19 increase.
In Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, vaccination rates are languishing in single digits. This contrasts sharply with the United States, where nearly half of all people have gotten at least one injection, and Britain and Israel, where the rates are even higher.
Not only do these three Pacific countries rank worst among all developed countries in COVID-19 immunizations, they also rank below many developing countries such as Brazil and India, according to the figures. and the online scientific publication Our World in Data.
Australia, which does not provide a full breakdown of its vaccination figures, also performs relatively poorly, as do several other countries initially considered remarkable successes in the fight against the virus, including Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan. .
This could change as vaccination campaigns accelerate and supplies become slack. But in the meantime, previously successful countries are exposed to the virus and face longer delays to reopen to the world.
Japan, for example, has only fully vaccinated around 1% of its population and faces a major new epidemic just 10 weeks before hosting the already delayed Olympics – albeit without foreign spectators.
The government last week announced an extension of the state of emergency until the end of the month and confirmed more than 7,000 new cases on Saturday alone, the highest daily number since January.
Bureaucracy is part of the problem. Countries facing a growing number of deaths from the virus have often rejected the rulebook, rushing through emergency vaccine approvals and delaying second injections beyond the recommended time to maximize the number of their first.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally negotiated with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to get rapid access to vaccines and called on the military to put them in the arms of the people. In the United States, some groups have handed out donuts, free drinks, and even marijuana to get people to roll up their sleeves.
Japan went through a more traditional approval process that required an additional layer of clinical trials for vaccines that had already been tested elsewhere and were in widespread use.
And once it started receiving vaccines, Japan faced a shortage of staff to administer them. In conservative medical culture, people trust doctors and nurses enough to do this.
Dentists are ready to help and are licensed, but have not been asked. Getting vaccinated by pharmacists in pharmacies like in the United States or by volunteers without medical training other than brief training like in Great Britain remains unthinkable in Japan.
New Zealand also went through its own approval process, finally approving the Pfizer vaccine in February, two months after U.S. regulators approved it for emergency use.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins pledged last year that New Zealand would be “in the lead” on vaccines. Now he says the problem is the supply.
“We can’t go any faster than we can get the vaccines in the country,” Hipkins told The Associated Press.
Pfizer declined to discuss whether it could have supplied New Zealand more quickly, deferring questions to the government.
Australia has faced its own problems. His plan to use mostly Australian-made vaccines took a hard hit in December when development was halted on a promising candidate because it produced false-positive results for HIV.
Next, the European Union blocked a shipment of more than 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca to Australia in March, considering the EU’s needs were greater. Australian regulators have also switched from recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine to the Pfizer vaccine as the preferred option for people under 50, further slowing the rollout.
In South Korea, government officials initially insisted on a wait-and-see approach with vaccines, saying the country’s outbreak was not as severe as in America or Europe. But as transmissions have deteriorated in recent months, public pressure has increased and officials have stepped up their negotiations with drug companies.
Worried about possible shortages, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun and other officials have started to point fingers at measures taken by the United States, Europe and India to tighten controls on exports vaccines to deal with major epidemics in their country.
Taiwan gave the first vaccines to less than 1% of its population, after receiving just a fraction of the millions of doses ordered. It has also developed its own COVID-19 vaccine, which officials say will be available by the end of July for emergency use.
After effectively eliminating the virus, Taiwan this week increased its emergency preparedness and imposed crowd restrictions after finding new unexplained cases in the community. President Tsai Ing-wen called on people not to panic.
Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccine expert at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said there were some advantages to taking a less frantic and more measured approach to vaccination.
“It’s a lot easier to commit to something after seeing it used 100 million times,” she said.
And having the luxury of sticking to the three-week schedule for the second doses of the Pfizer vaccine will likely result in more people receiving those vaccines, she added. People with long waits for second doses were more likely to lose interest or move on with their lives.
Petousis-Harris said New Zealand and many other wealthy countries that were slow to get started are likely to see their vaccination rates rise rapidly in the coming months, as their campaigns shift into high gear.
By next year, she said, it will likely once again be the developing countries that will be left behind.
Associated Press editors 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.