Jabonomics: Japan's Ministry of Finance calls for an end to "free" Covid jabs
Although some Japanese politicians apparently want to keep wasting taxpayers’ money on defective jabs for years to come, Japan’s Ministry of Finance finally jumped in with a more fiscally responsible proposal.
Japan's Ministry of Finance proposed Monday that an advisory panel for the finance minister consider the idea of ending free-of-charge coronavirus vaccinations. The Fiscal System Council working group should discuss making citizens shoulder part of costs for vaccinations against the novel coronavirus as they do for seasonal influenza vaccine shots to curb the government's social security-linked spending, MOF officials said at a meeting of the group.
The MoF suggests that since Covid’s case severity and fatality rates are now similar to those of the flu, the government should reconsider the special treatment Covid receives. Currently, Covid’s special legal status means the government foots the bill for not just jabs and drugs but also hospital stays. For almost all other diseases, patients pay 30% out of pocket, and health insurance covers the other 70%.
Jabs and drugs
So how much have these “free” vaccines cost? For perspective, the average monthly income for households in Japan is about ¥0.5 million.
According to the MoF’s document, vaccine procurement cost about ¥2.4 trillion and vaccine administration (e.g., renting/setting up vaccination centres, buying needles and syringes, etc.) cost ¥2.3 trillion, so the total cost is ¥4.7 trillion (approx 37 billion USD, equivalent to the annual GDP of Bolivia).
Japan procured 882 million doses, so each dose costs about ¥2725. Up to 14 September, Japan had used just 320.03 million doses, mostly Pfizer (243 mil out of 399 mil) and Moderna (77 mil out of 213 mil).
But the main waste comes from the brands they didn’t use. I’ve already written about Japan’s short-term relationship with AstraZeneca, but let’s recap. Japan contracted for 120 mil AZ doses, but since they prefer mRNA-induced myocarditis to AVV-induced blood clots, they sent 44 mil overseas, used only 0.12 mil domestically, and cancelled/disposed of the rest.
But the worst rip off is Novavax, with 149.8 mil of 150.0 mil doses still unused. At least with the AZ clot shots, Japan could find suckers overseas to take 1/3 of them.
All this leaves Japanese taxpayers coughing up ¥1.36 trillion for 455.5 million unused/disposed of jabs.
But the jabs aren’t the only costly but defective pharmaceuticals Japan splashed out on. Japan also spent ¥1.3 trillion (equivalent to the annual GPD of Rwanda) on Covid treatments like Remdesivir, Paxlovid, and various now obsolete monoclonal antibodies. But about 80% of the procured treatments haven’t been used.
As well as buying crap from overseas, the government has also sunk ¥1.3 trillion into the development and production of domestic Covid vaccines and medications. The number released to the market so far? Zero.
I never thought I’d write this, but the Pfizer/BioNTech shots are starting to look good value at this point. Say what you like about their safety and effectiveness, but at least the majority of procured BNT162b2 shots have actually been used.
Covid’s special legal status has also led to another eye-wateringly wasteful Japanese Covid policy: paying hospitals to set aside hospital beds for Covid patients. One reason for this is that private hospitals can refuse take to Covid patients, and 80% of medical institutions in Japan are private. Under the current scheme, the government pays ¥430,000 per day to secure an ICU bed, 12 times a hospital’s normal profit for an occupied bed (¥35,974). The government also pays ¥211,000 per day to secure a HCU bed and ¥74,000 per day for any other bed.
In total, the government has paid out ¥7.6 trillion (equivalent to the annual GDP of Belarus) in “Emergency Comprehensive Support Payments (緊急包括支援交付金)” for hospital beds, bonuses for medical personnel, etc. You can see why Japan’s medical establishment is in no rush to end the pandemic. Like the vaccine manufacturers, they’ve made a killing.
The MoF puts the total amount spent by the government on jabs, hospitals, tests, etc. at ¥17 trillion. To help cover these costs, it would’ve been nice if the government hadn’t strangled the economy for long periods over the last few years. But they did.