The Perfect Enemy | Japan’s unvaccinated youth drive record Covid infections
August 17, 2022

Japan’s unvaccinated youth drive record Covid infections

Japan’s unvaccinated youth drive record Covid infections  Financial TimesView Full Coverage on Google News

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Japan is struggling to contain its biggest coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic, which is being driven by soaring infection rates among children and adolescents who have not been fully vaccinated.

The spread of the highly transmissible BA.5 Omicron subvariant has led to a record number of daily cases of Covid in Tokyo and cities across Japan, surpassing 230,000 for the first time last week.

Those younger than 20 made up about 30 per cent of new infections in July, compared with 19 per cent in August of last year. People below the age of 30 together accounted for about half of all new cases.

According to the World Health Organization, Japan reported the highest number of new cases in the Asia-Pacific region between the week of July 18 to 24, followed by South Korea and Australia.

Japan’s low vaccination rate among the young is in contrast to much of east Asia, where the elderly lag behind the rest of the population.

The Japanese government has been largely successful in vaccinating most of its citizens over the age of 65, which make up close to a third of the country’s total population.

While a fourth jab is being distributed for the elderly, inoculation for children and adolescents has been much slower, with about 33 per cent of those aged between 12 and 19 triple-vaccinated.

The vaccination programme for children aged between five and 11 began in February, and only about 17 per cent of that age group have received two doses. The government has not approved a third dose for this group, raising concerns among experts after studies showed that double-vaccinated individuals were at higher risk of infection than those who were triple-vaccinated.

“The biggest factor [for the increase in cases] is the slow progress with inoculation for children,” said Junichiro Nishi, an expert on infectious diseases at Kagoshima University. “It feels like it’s too late now to stop the spread, but in the longer term, a third dose of vaccination for the ages between five and 11 will be necessary.”

Apart from the late implementation of an inoculation programme for the young, Nishi said the sharp increase in Covid cases was also due to the relatively few Japanese who were infected during the first waves of the pandemic. In Japan, less than 10 per cent of the population have been infected with Covid, compared with about 30 per cent in the US and 34 per cent in the UK.

“We expect record numbers to continue nationwide,” said Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, who chairs a panel of experts advising the health ministry.

The virus still affects people’s daily lives in Asia’s largest advanced economy, with many wearing face masks and sanitising their hands before entering shops.

Despite the surge in cases, the government has not imposed the kind of restrictions on social and economic activities as during previous waves. This is mainly because the number of deaths and severe cases from Covid has been low, even though cases among the elderly have also increased significantly.

In Japan, the coronavirus fatality rate is 0.3 per cent among infected people, compared with 1.1 per cent in the US and 0.8 per cent in the UK, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.