October 4, 2023

A shortage of doctors and nurses in Japan’s aging population has contributed to the sluggish introduction of the Covid vaccine in the country, says Professor Sayuri Shirai of Keio University.

According to Our World in Data, only 18.3% of the Japanese population received at least one dose of Covid vaccine on June 6th. In comparison, more than 50% of people in the US have received a dose of the vaccine, while that number is even higher in the UK at 63.6%.

“In an aging society, it is very difficult to find doctors and nurses [the vaccines]. That delayed this vaccination, ”Shirai told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia on Wednesday.

Countries with an aging population and falling birth rates also risk critical labor shortages in the future. A 2019 United Nations report showed that Japan has the highest old-age dependency ratio in the world, with this figure expected to increase further through 2050.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, a 2017 report by the World Health Organization found that Japan was facing a “critical shortage of doctors.” It also noted that despite efforts to increase the workforce in the sector, “the falling birth rate in particular will have an impact on the future population of health professionals”.

A nurse (R) checks a computer with Hospital Director Dr. Yutaka Kobayashi in the coronavirus ward of the Sakura General Hospital.

Carl Hof | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Japan’s race to vaccinate its population before the Olympics faced another hurdle. An article published earlier this month in the medical journal The Lancet stated that the country only allows nurses and doctors to vaccinate citizens and cited this as one of the reasons for the slow adoption.

However, this situation could improve. Local media reports that the Japanese government will relax medical rules to allow more workers to get Covid vaccinations. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Japan exceeded 1 million doses of Covid vaccinations in a single day.

“The adoption of vaccines finally began to accelerate from mid-May,” Naohiko Baba, chief economist for Japan at Goldman Sachs, told CNBC on Wednesday. “We now assume that half of the population will be vaccinated by the end of summer.”

Baba said the development was “good news” for the Tokyo Olympics, due to begin in about a month, despite public fears about its potential to become a super-spread event. A recent poll by local news agency Kyodo News found that around 86% of people in Japan will be “concerned about a recovery” in Covid cases when the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games take place this summer.

On Thursday, Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture was still in a state of emergency while several areas, including Tokyo, were facing “priority preventive measures,” according to the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Affairs. Japan has recorded more than 789,000 Covid infections and at least 14,506 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics owns the U.S. broadcast rights to all Summer and Winter Games through 2032.