Raw Japan

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In search of a flu shot

November 12, 2009

Take a look around any Japanese city and reminders of the H1N1 influenza threat are everywhere. Commuters in surgical masks. Hand sanitiser at building entrances. Classrooms and daycare centres being temporarily shut.

But nothing gets parents more into a panic than news reports of small children having died from the disease. Moms and dads understandably want vaccinations for their kids as soon as possible but there’s one major problem: where can you get them?

JAPANJapan has started administering the swine flu vaccine to high-risk groups such as medical personnel, pregnant women and children under the age of nine with medical problems such as asthma. But the wider school-age population will not be eligible until early next year.

One of my 3-year-old twin daughters qualified because she has a serious case of asthma, but the doctor told us to “keep it a secret” for fear of a rush on the hospital for scarce vaccine.

“This place already looks like a field hospital,” said the pediatrician at the children’s hospital, which was packed with young flu patients in the waiting room where some were even vomiting. “Everyone is desperate for the shot. We can’t work like this.”

Still, even high-priority patients have no guarantee of immediately receiving the vaccine.

We tried to get the vaccine for my other daughter, who also has asthma, but were told to call back later in the month because the doctor judged her symptoms to be too mild.

On the other hand, the swine flu outbreak has been a boon for some companies. Drugstores have been selling out of masks and hand disinfectant as people try to avoid coming down with the virus, which is thought to spread person-to-person through coughing or sneezing.

And in one innovative approach, a clinic near Tokyo with walls, door knobs and other fixtures made out of copper recently opened for business, after a British scientist reportedly found copper to be effective in preventing the spread of influenza.

Maybe it’s time to start investing in copper?

Photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao


What city are you living in? If you live in Tokyo, many wards have already started giving the vaccination to healthy children at clinics. That is no “secret” and in line with guidelines published in many wards.

Minato Ward publishes guidelines on its website saying it will give the shots from Monday Nov 16: http://www.city.minato.tokyo.jp/kurasi/i za/influenza_ah1n1/wakutin/index.html)

Most clinics in that Ward are taking appts from 16 Nov onward.

Let’s keep the debate informed with the facts as they stand.

Posted by Ted | Report as abusive

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I live in Tokyo and the city’s Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health says on its Website that those people seen as having the highest risk could get shots from Nov 9 and those classified as a “secondary risk” from Nov 16. But the reality is that many local clinics have been unable to obtain enough supplies of vaccine so they are giving shots only to a limited number of children — mostly restricted to those with the most chronic diseases.

My children’s pediatrician told me he received enough vaccine to cover only 60 children in his first delivery and he needed to prioritise patients. Another clinic said it was no longer taking reservations because all of the available shots for this month had already been booked.

I will try calling our clinic again this week as they as they were expecting additional vaccines to cover 100 more children. Let’s see how it goes.

Posted by Mariko Katsumura | Report as abusive

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