As Japan gears up for a COVID-19 vaccination drive, a cheerful cartoon dog chatbot is doing its bit to reassure a notoriously vaccine-skeptical population and answer any questions they might have.
Trust in vaccines in Japan is among the lowest in the world, a study by The Lancet medical journal showed.
Only half the population want to take a COVID-19 vaccine, a poll by national broadcaster NHK found last month.
It is among the last major economies to begin its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which is seen as vital for preparations for the Olympic Games, due to open in fewer than 200 days, after being postponed last year as COVID-19 spread.
The government is expected to approve Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine this weekend, and begin shots almost immediately, prioritizing front-line health workers.
While the anti-vaccine movement in the US is relatively new and driven largely by fears of autism, vaccine hesitancy in Japan stems from vague safety concerns going back decades.
Unproven reports of side effects halted active inoculation campaigns for mumps in the early 1990s and human papillomavirus, or HPV, in 2013.
Officials are counting on a generally high degree of compliance with medical directives that carry the government’s stamp of approval.
However, with waning support for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration, partly over its handling of the pandemic, an enthusiastic take-up of the shots remains uncertain.
“In Japan, I would say that trust in the government can directly be associated with trust in vaccines,” said Yuji Yamada, a doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
“It can still go both ways at this point,” said Yamada, one of the 10 young Japanese physicians who helped create the dog chatbot to spread lessons learned from overseas vaccination efforts and to counter social media rumors.
Japanese Minister for Administrative and Regulatory Reform Taro Kono, who has posted a video in which he talks frankly about possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccines, promoted the cheerful dog chatbot on Twitter last week.
The dog, a shiba inu known as Corowa-kun — from the Japanese words for “coronavirus” and “vaccine” — wears a white doctor’s coat and the app named for him gives automated answers to medical questions.
Three years after a deadly virus struck India’s endangered Asiatic lions in their last remaining natural habitat, conservationists are hunting for new homes to help booming prides roam free. The majestic big cats, slightly smaller than their African cousins and with a fold of skin along their bellies, were once found widely across southwest Asia. Hunting and human encroachment saw the population plunge to just 20 by 1913, and the lions are now found only in a wildlife sanctuary in India’s western Gujarat State. Following years of concerted government efforts, the lion population in Gir National Park has swelled to nearly 700, according
A rogue overgrown sheep found roaming through regional Australia has been shorn of his 35kg fleece — a weight even greater than that of the famous New Zealand sheep Shrek, who was captured in 2005 after six years on the loose. The merino ram, dubbed Baarack by rescuers, was discovered wandering alone with an extraordinarily overgrown wool coat, and was promptly shorn to save his life. Kyle Behrend, from the Edgar’s Mission farm sanctuary, said that it appeared Baarack was “once an owned sheep” who had escaped. Merino sheep do not shed their fleece and need to be shorn at least annually, as
‘GRAVE CONCERN’: A critic of the government died immediately following his complaints of torture at the hands of security forces, a human rights group said Students on Friday clashed with police in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, as anger mounted at the death of a writer and government critic in a high-security jail. At least 18 police and an unknown number of protesters were injured in the clashes, authorities and witnesses said, amid international demands for an independent investigation into the death of Mushtaq Ahmed. An Agence France-Presse correspondent witnessed police using batons and firing tear gas at students who staged a torchlight march calling for “justice” near the University of Dhaka. At least six students who allegedly attacked security forces with torches were detained, police said. More protests were planned
DMZ SWIM: Over more than three hours, South Korean surveillance cameras caught him eight times and audible alarms sounded twice, but border guards did not notice A North Korean defector wore a diving suit and fins during a daring six-hour swim around one of the world’s most fortified borders and was only caught after apparently falling asleep, a Seoul official said. South Korean forces did not spot the man’s audacious exploit, despite his appearance several times on surveillance cameras after he landed and triggered alarms, drawing heavy criticism from media and opposition lawmakers. Even after his presence was noticed, the man — who used diving gear to make his way by sea around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean Peninsula — was not caught for another