What It’s Like to Get The Covid Vaccine in Japan

It’s been a while since the last update, but we’re back and fully vaccinated. Let’s start with that, shall we?

Vaccine Hesitancy in Japan

Context: Japan’s government started to roll out vaccines for non-essential, non-elderly members of the population in the early summer of 2021. After conducting their own medical trials on Japanese people, they gave the green light to Moderna and began making it rain with that sweet, sweet Yen. But not everyone ran out to get the vaccine.

Japan’s had a less-than-stellar record with government-run vaccine rollouts, causing a great deal of damage with trust. In fact, Japan ranks in the bottom three when it comes to trust in vaccines and their efficacy. So what happened here?

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First was the MMR vaccine in the 1990s. While there was no link found by doctors or scientists to prove the causation, people saw and believed that the MMR vaccine lead to higher rates of aseptic meningitis, a real nasty condition that I recommend avoiding. This, compounded with a 1992 court case that said that the government could be held liable for adverse side effects from vaccines, and then the government’s subsequent removing of mandatory vaccinations from the law, sent the message to the Japanese populace that “Hey, maybe vaccines aren’t so great, so, you know, you do you. Also, please don’t sue us.”

Then, there was the HPV vaccine. The media was quick to sensationalize the side effects, citing seizures and severe headaches as possible outcomes. This negative reporting was enough to possibly push the health ministry to withdraw its recommendation for Japanese people to get the inoculation in 2013. The vaccine rate quickly dropped thereafter to where it sits now, at less than 1% nationally for HPV.

It’s no wonder people in Japan raised more than a few eyebrows when the government was trying to convince them to get another vaccine. While it still remains to be seen if the third time’s the charm, it does look promising. I’m fully vaccinated now and the process wasn’t that bad from start to finish. It wasn’t painless, but we’ll get to that.

Getting the First Dose

Thankfully, the government opened up applications for universities to act as vaccine distribution centers. Mine was chosen out of 30 or so to be one such distribution site. So, the university set up a schedule: You were given a time and date to go get your vaccine to ensure a smooth, orderly process. And you know what? It was pretty smooth and orderly… but not without expected layers of redundancy and bureaucracy.

First, we got into line and got checked in. They looked at their paper list, checked that we were in the right time, and had us show our paperwork. During this, we sanitized our hands and got our temperatures recorded. Once this was taken care of, we went into the next room where people sat behind plexiglass shields. Here, we showed out paperwork again and were asked if we have had Covid before. Since I never had, I can’t tell you what happens if you say yes, but after saying no, my paper gets signed and I’m sent to the next room. All people up until now were university staff. Medical staff enters the equation now.

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Now enters the doctors. They review your medical history and do a short interview to make sure the vaccine is OK for you to take. They are very eagle-eyed with allergies. Since I have a penicillin allergy, I was given a yellow sticker and sent to get my shot. The sticker denoted that I was to wait 30 minutes after getting the shot to watch for side effects instead of 15. So, you enter the room with about 8-10 stations with nurses and admin. The nurses sit you down, alcohol your arm, and give you the shot. They explained everything they were doing before they did it. Once you were done, you gave your paperwork to the admin who checked you off their list and applied your first-dose QR sticker to your paperwork for the local government.

You have to let the local government know you got your shot outside of your reservation ticket, so this form was setting us up for more paperwork. It seems like a lot, but I didn’t really have to do anything other than hand it to the next person in the assembly line; since the university opened up the vaccines first to university staff, faculty, and students, they took care of the administrative work for us. The country lives for admin, it seems.

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After your shot, you are sat down in a row based on the time you got your shot. After the scheduled 15 minutes, they dismiss you by row, so not everyone is milling about and bumping into each other. There was security outside to push you away once you were done as well. I sat for my extra time in my yellow-sticker area, where you were dismissed one-by-one by a woman with a nice watch and clipboard so she could keep individual track of the special cases with allergies, like myself.

I left, finished my teaching, and went home. My side effects were minimal: Slight headache, a little fatigued, but nothing that stopped me. This was in July. My second dose came a few weeks later in August.

Getting the Second Dose and Dealing With Side Effects

So, getting the second dose happened exactly like the first dose. The second time, I wasn’t given a yellow sticker, and was able to leave normally. I felt fine afterwards, so I was hoping that my side effects would be the same or less than the first dose. But then I remembered all the stories about how the second dose of the two-doser vaccines really knock you flat.

My second dose really knocked me flat the next day.

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I wasn’t working, thankfully, but had this incredible pain in my hip, knees, and ankles, in addition to a bad headache. If that was what is was like to actually have Covid, then I even more profound sorrow for those who get the disease. There was no configuration I could put my body into that didn’t cause me a great deal of pain. The day dragged on at a snail’s pace as I writhed around on various beds and sofas, trying to get comfortable. My wife and I ended up watching Luca around 8 PM, which helped distract me, and when it finished an hour and a half or so later, my pain started to subside. I was honestly so exhausted from the pain that I don’t quite remember laying my head down and falling asleep; I was just out.

The next morning I work up fine, as if nothing happened. I’ve had no other major pain or minor incidents since then. I now have my 94.1% protection against vanilla Corona and my mind is a bit more at ease.

Despite the vaccine hesitancy, more and more Japanese people are getting the vaccine. Covid hit the world for a loop: We didn’t expect this and we scrambled to keep up with what was going on. Now with the Delta variant and the Nipah Virus spreading about, it’s easy to get discouraged and feel a bit hopeless. I really hope that more people put their trust into their fellow man: Those who they trust to treat their illness to continue to do so and to heed their advice. Science isn’t perfect, but it’s the best tool we have to slowly get ourselves back to normalcy.

Odd to think that statement might be controversial in this day and age… and yet here we are. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!


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