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Getting your Covid vaccine in Japan (with a helpful hint)

Updated: May 7, 2021

Anxiously awaiting your Covid-19 vaccine? You're not alone.

As of this writing, less than 2% of the people in Japan have been vaccinated. Compared to my U.S. colleagues who posted their vaccination selfies nearly 4 months ago, waiting until now seemed like an eternity. Consider though, that just 1 year ago we were in the midst of our first wave of the pandemic figuring out how best to fight the disease, let alone being close to developing or administering a vaccine. Our response may have been far from perfect with variants making global eradication difficult, but I think that we can say the world has come together with unforeseen effort to get us to where we are today.

Frustration at the "slow roll-out" in Japan is understandable, as a wealthy, technologically advanced country with socialized medicine "should" be a front-runner in vaccination. The reasons are many, but include that Japan requires all vaccines to undergo clinical trials in this country prior to approval. Doctors in Japan are typically the ones to administer the injections. Nurses are allowed for the sake of expediting administration, however unlike in other countries, pharmacists, dentists, medical technicians, and students are not allowed, resulting in a shortage of people to administer the vaccine.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, as Japan is finally administering vaccines to medical personnel and to those who are 65 years and older. Those who are more vulnerable to the effects of Covid infection (with chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes and with a BMI >30) are to be prioritized next, and the general population (ages 16 and up) will be eligible in July. All residents regardless of nationality are eligible and it is free provided by your municipality.

As a clinic that is currently administering the Covid-19 vaccine, these are the procedures and what you can expect in order to receive your vaccine.

1. You will get a vaccine voucher in the mail from your municipality/ward office.

2. Call or make an online appointment at your designated vaccination sites.

3. The time between your first and second vaccine doses will be 3 weeks for Pfizer, and 28 days for Moderna/AstraZenica - the type of vaccine will likely depend on the clinic (you likely won't be able to choose which vaccine you will get).

Make sure you bring your ID, fill out your vaccination questionnaire (included with your voucher), and wear clothes that make it easy to get a shot. Be prepared to be observed for 15 min post vaccination, 30 minutes if you have a history of allergic reactions in the past. Side effects and allergic reactions are extremely rare, but vaccination sites are equipped with medications and personnel to handle such emergencies.

From a personal standpoint, my Pfizer vaccination did not hurt one bit - it was much less painful than a typical flu shot. The next day my arm was a bit sore, but that too faded within 2 days. Side effects do tend to be slightly worse with the 2nd dose (it just means your immune system is reacting appropriately), so you might want to take some acetaminophen/paracetamol ("Calonal" in Japan) prior to getting your jab.

A helpful tip, try to get plenty of sleep the night before and after your vaccination. Immune response to vaccination has shown to be more robust with regular sleep, and diminished with lack of sleep. In a study with Hepatitis A vaccination the antibody response was nearly two-fold higher with regular sleep compared to those sleep deprived for just one night after vaccination!

Even though the rollout has been slow and there have been many frustrating things about this pandemic, we have been lucky that compared to many other countries, things have not been terrible in Japan. With a little patience, trust in the system, and following the procedures we will all get vaccinated and turn the corner on this pandemic. Don't worry, we've got this. This is happening.

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