By TAKAOKI YAMAMOTO/ Staff Writer
March 30, 2023 at 19:01 JST
In its rush to secure enough vaccinations for COVID-19, the health ministry may have done a shoddy job of record-keeping.
The Board of Audit reached that conclusion in its report released on March 29 about the vaccination project for fiscal 2020 and 2021.
Over those two years, the ministry secured enough vaccines for 882 million jabs, or more than seven times the Japanese population.
About 383 million vaccinations had been given as of March 28, according to the government.
A Board of Audit official who handled the matter said the lack of written documentation made it impossible to determine if the 882 million shots were excessive, insufficient or appropriate.
The total cost of the vaccination project was 4.202 trillion yen ($31.7 billion), with 2.403 trillion yen going to pay for the vaccines. Subsidies totaling 1.714 trillion yen were paid to local governments that handled the actual vaccination of residents.
But the Board of Audit report also stated that health ministry documents did not contain an adequate basis for determining how the volume of vaccines secured was calculated.
“If the amount of vaccines secured was extremely excessive in comparison to the amount actually needed, then an uneconomic situation of paying to cancel orders or discarding vaccines might have occurred,” the report stated.
The first cases of COVID-19 internationally emerged in late 2019 and vaccinations in Japan began in February 2021.
From October 2020, the government signed contracts with four foreign pharmaceutical companies for the vaccines because no domestic company had succeeded in developing an effective vaccine.
Because nations around the world were trying to acquire the vaccines, the health ministry signed the contracts even before the companies had successfully developed them and they were approved for domestic use.
Health ministry officials told them the plan to secure the vaccines was intended to ensure they would have enough for the population even if a certain company failed to develop a vaccine, according to Board of Audit officials.
But the documents the health ministry compiled did not have adequate information that would serve for determining how many shots were obtained through each contract.
While the Board of Audit admitted the health ministry was dealing with an emergency, it also said any future documents should be compiled to show how the costs were calculated to allow for a subsequent objective evaluation about the appropriateness of the acquisition.
The Board of Audit report also pointed out problems with the health ministry’s inventory control for the vaccines, as well as the refunds received from pharmaceutical companies after canceling orders.
Although the health ministry had weekly records of how many vaccines were received from pharmaceutical companies and a computer system recorded how many vaccines were distributed to local governments, no simple subtraction was periodically done to determine how many vaccines were still available for distribution.
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