As Tokyo Olympics near, why has Japan been so slow to vaccinate its citizens?

Japan is known around the world for its efficiency and organization, a place where the trains, famously, are always running on time.

But in its rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the country has lagged well behind its peers.

With the 2021 Tokyo Olympics now just 48 days away, Japan still ranks last in vaccination rate among the 38 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to online research site Our World in Data. Roughly 8.7% of its 126 million residents had received at least one shot as of Thursday. Only 3% of the Japanese public – mostly health-care workers and the elderly – is fully vaccinated.

Though the Japanese government has dramatically ramped up its vaccine distribution efforts over the past week, its sluggish rollout has led to concerns among the Japanese public about whether the Olympics can be held safely beginning on July 23.

It's also prompted a significant question: Why has a country famous for its efficiency been so inefficient in getting shots in arms?

"A lot of it has to do with the government’s slow response," said Michael R. Reich, a professor of international health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "And the government’s thinking that Japan had solved the pandemic problem with its earlier policies."

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