Japan, as is well known, has really been dragging its feet when it comes to rolling out vaccinations for COVID-19. At the start of the Golden Week holidays, April 29, the percentage of the population that had received vaccinations was about 2% -- the lowest of all advanced economies.
But for those willing to spend the money on the black market, reports Friday (May 21), jabs are available, and have been since last January.
"Presently, four types of vaccines have been approved in China, including the one from Sinopharm and three others," says Kazumi Murakami, a medical journalist. "Large volumes have been exported from China, mainly to Southeast Asia and other developing countries. It's supposed that some of those have wound up in the hands of illegal traders or smugglers."
The boss of a chain of cabaret clubs in the Tokyo metropolitan area tells the reporter, "To help our workers secure a livelihood, we've been operating the clubs secretly (in violation of the government crackdown), but if an outbreak is traced to one of our clubs, we're done for. While I was searching for a solution, I heard about the 'underground vaccine' from somebody in the same line of business."
The reporter claims to have made contact with a source of Russian vaccine via the chat application in Telegram, and negotiated a deal.
"Telegram is said to be highly secure from leaks so it's an ideal media," he writes.
Bulletin board posts use code words for illicit drugs, such as "Hie-hie" for methamphetamines and "Yasai" for marijuana. The writer soon spotted a post that read, "Those desiring Chinese corona vaccine, or who want an injection, mail me directly."
Posing as a company owner, the writer sent an inquiry and received a reply that a quantity of Sinovac vaccine for 200 people was available for 2 million yen, or 150,000 yen for a single jab. Delivery was promised within one week following receipt of payment.
The article notes that to bring an unapproved drug into the country, Japanese law requires a certificate for import of medicines and medical devices, and such items cannot be sold without certification. To do so would violate the Act on Securing Quality, Efficacy and Safety of Products Including Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices. Violators face penalties equivalent to those caught smuggling narcotics.
The writer made contact with a seller who cautiously agreed to supply a sample for verification purposes.
"You might be a cop, so I won't meet you in person," the seller texted. "After you verify that it's the real thing, please remit the 150,000 yen."
He soon received a syringe containing 0.5ml of a clear liquid. "I sent samples to five laboratories for analysis, but they all refused, claiming they had no facilities for confirming whether or not it was really vaccine."
He was able to arrange a test for pH; its value showed a low alkalinity of 7.8, supposedly close to the figure for vaccine. The sample was odorless and tested negative for illegal narcotics such as cocaine.
If the vaccine happens to be phony, the person who receives a jab may be risking their life.
And needless to say, the best thing the government can do to discourage the circulation of illegal vaccines, is to expedite the vaccination process.
Journalist Tetsuo Suzuki blamed the vaccine black market -- if it exists -- on Japan's vertically segmented administrative system.
"The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is responsible for vaccine procurements; the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism oversees the shipping; the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry stores it; and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications interacts with local governments," he explains. "That's a key reason why the rollout has been so slow.
"Prime Minister Suga only took measures to cut through the red tape with the appointment of Taro Kono as minister oversee the vaccinations on January 18," Suzuki added.© RikiWeb