Tokyo mom creates COVID-19 vaccination database in information vacuum

By Rocky Swift

TOKYO (Reuters) – Balancing a new software programming job and caring for a toddler in Tokyo, LaShawn Toyoda saw growing confusion in his social media feeds among non-Japanese speakers about how they might get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The 36-year-old, a former English teacher who had recently completed a crash coding course as part of a career change brought on by a pandemic, decided she had the skills to help allay concerns about the lack of clear direction from the authorities.

“There was no information available in a language other than Japanese on when they could get the vaccine, how they could get the vaccine, or where,” said Toyoda, who moved from Maryland to the United States to Tokyo a decade ago.

“I said to my husband, ‘look at our daughter, I have to do something.”

Hours later, Toyoda launched its Find a Doc database, a health database that helps non-Japanese speakers find clinics with vaccine doses. COVID-19 to resell after cancellations of priority elderly patients.

The database, which went live on June 13, quickly grew from just two clinics to nearly 70 with information in 19 languages.

Toyoda’s Twitter feed @theyokohamalife is filled with thanks and anecdotes about people who got their photos through the site, which she says has been used by more than 36,000 people.

The popularity of the site underscores nervousness over the slow rollout of vaccination in Japan, particularly in Tokyo, where the Olympics are due to begin in less than a month.

According to a Reuters tracker, only 23% of the population received at least one dose, one of the lowest levels among major economies.

After a slow start with limited supplies prioritizing medical workers and the elderly, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to have the elderly population fully immunized by the end of this month and all other adults in here November.

To speed up the process, the government ceded more control to municipalities and businesses to set up their own fire administration systems and centers.

This means that availability, especially for the general public, has varied considerably depending on where someone works and lives.

Toyoda, who upgraded after the school she taught part-time was closed during the state of emergency in the capital last year, booked her own first injection at a clinic at her base data last week.

The site received wide support, with more experienced programmers from Google, Mercari Inc, and Inc from Alphabet Inc volunteering to add functionality and make it more secure.

The combined efforts echo online community activism in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, when there was a similar void of official information.

“We take it for granted that the government will do anything and everything. No, they won’t,” said Pieter Franken, who co-founded the SafeCast volunteer group, which began by collecting radiation readings from across the board. Japan, but has since extended to monitoring air quality and other quality of life factors.

“You can fill the void with civic action.”

(Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Jane Wardell)

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