Changes and remaining challenges for the Japanese immunization program: Closing the vaccine gap


The Japanese immunization program has made considerable progress since 2009: several new vaccines have been introduced and most are included in the National Immunization Program (NIP). In October 2020, the Japanese law on immunization was revised, which resulted in a few laudable achievements. First, rotavirus vaccines were added to the NIP, 10 years after their introduction, and noteworthy studies of vaccine effectiveness and the incidence of intussusception in Japanese children were published. Second, rules on vaccine intervals-which had been a longstanding concern-were withdrawn. In addition to this revision of the law, the Japanese version of the Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) was released by the Japan Pediatric Society in 2018. The VIS provides useful caregiver information on general immunization concepts and individual vaccines. Further challenges for the Japanese immunization program include (1) administering a booster dose of pertussis-containing vaccine to preschool children or teenagers, (2) reestablishing the active recommendation for human papilloma virus vaccines, (3) adding the mumps and influenza vaccines to the NIP, and (4) ensuring optimal dosing of seasonal influenza vaccines. During the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, vaccination rates among children have been decreasing in many countries. In Japan, vaccination rates have been stable in infants, but declining among toddlers and school-aged children, despite public awareness of the need for timely administration of vaccines during the pandemic. Clearly, further action is needed if we are to adequately protect children living in Japan from vaccine-preventable diseases.