COVID-19 vaccinations in Japan

A vaccination venue set up in Hachioji City Hall | KYODO
A vaccination venue set up in Hachioji City Hall | KYODO

With COVID-19 vaccinations for front-line essential workers already underway, Japan gradually expanded inoculations to the elderly population of those 65 years old or older on April 12. It will later continue to vaccinate those with underlying health conditions and finally the general public.

Here is what you need to know about getting vaccinated in Japan.

What are the steps that I need to take to be vaccinated?

    1. You will receive a vaccination voucher in mail along with a letter of notification from the municipality of your residence
    2. Make your reservation online or by phone

Where can I get vaccinated? 

Vaccination venues vary with each municipality. The vaccination voucher sent from local governments will list the available venues. Municipalities are planning to use public facilities and gymnasiums, for instance, as large-scale vaccination centers. Local clinics may also offer shots as well.

Those who want to get inoculated at a venue outside the municipality where your residency is currently registered should contact your local government office.

What do I need to do before I go to the vaccination venue?

  • Make sure you don’t have a fever or other symptoms of illness
  • Make sure you have your vaccination voucher and ID (passport, driver’s license, health insurance card are among the acceptable IDs)
  • Make sure you have filled out your vaccination questionnaire (though you may fill it out at the venue)
  • Wear clothes that would make it easy to receive a shot

What kind of underlying conditions would allow you to be prioritized for vaccination? 

  • Chronic respiratory illness
  • Chronic heart disease, including high blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Diabetes patient treated with insulin and other medication, or diabetes patient suffering from another illness
  • Blood disease (but not anemia)
  • Illness that would cause lower immune system, including ongoing treatment of a malignant tumor
  • Those being treated with steroids and other forms of treatment that causes a decreased immune system
  • Neurological and neuromuscular diseases associated with immune abnormalities
  • Decline of physical function caused by a neurological disorder or neuromuscular disease
  • Chromosomal disorder
  • Having both severe physical and mental disorder
  • Sleep apnea syndrome
  • Those hospitalized/treated for severe mental illness or have been granted by local municipalities as having a long-term mental disease
  • Those with BMI (body mass index) of 30 and higher.BMI = Body weight (kg) ÷ height (m) ÷ height (m)
A medical worker receives a Pfizer vaccination in February at Rosai Hospital in Ota Ward. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
A medical worker receives a Pfizer vaccination in February at Rosai Hospital in Ota Ward. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

Who should not get a vaccine shot?

  • Those who have a fever
  • Those who are suffering from an acute disease
  • Those who have a history of having severe allergic reactions such as anaphylactic shock
  • Those who are deemed unfit by a physician to be vaccinated

Can those who were infected with COVID-19 get the vaccine?

Yes, but they may need to wait a certain period of time before getting the shot.

What do you do after you arrive at the vaccination venue?

  1. Show your identification (driver’s license, health insurance card or passport are viable)
  2. Submit medical questionnaire (best to fill it out in advance)
  3. Get your initial diagnosis (to check your health condition)
  4. Get vaccinated (approximately takes 1-2 minutes)
  5. Receive vaccination certificate, which will be needed for the second vaccination
  6. Rest for 15 minutes to monitor your post-vaccination condition

Who can get vaccinated? 

Those who are older than 16. Municipalities will be sending out vaccine vouchers based on the residency registration. If you are not registered (foreign residents who just arrived in Japan may fall into this category) or want to be inoculated in a municipality other than where you are registered, contact your local municipality office.

Is it free? 

Yes.

What will be the order of the vaccine rollout?

  1. Medical workers
  2. Elderly people (65 or older, or those who were born on or before April 1, 1954)
  3. Those with underlying medical conditions or workers at elderly care facilities. Those with underlying illnesses do not need to submit a doctor’s note or medical certificate to prove their conditions.
  4. Everyone else
First day of vaccinations in Japan for people 65 and over in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture on April 12. | KYODO
First day of vaccinations in Japan for people 65 and over in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture on April 12. | KYODO

How many shots will I get?

Basically, two shots. For the Pfizer vaccine, the first and second shot will be three weeks apart. If the Moderna and  AstraZeneca vaccine becomes available, the first and second shots should be 28 days apart.

What are the common side effects? 

According to the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), side effects include pain in the arm where it was vaccinated; fatigue; headache; sore muscles; joint pain; fever; chills; and diarrhea. Most of the symptoms should subside within a few days of vaccination.

In rare cases, vaccine recipients can suffer from a severe allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock, which, in most cases, occurs soon after the vaccination. Therefore, those who get inoculated are asked to stay on at the venue for 15 minutes, or about 30 minutes if you have suffered from allergic reactions in the past, to make sure they can be treated immediately if anything happens.

Can people choose which company’s vaccines they receive?

This is not yet clear. A senior government official said in March that people may be able to choose which vaccines to get. However, Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccine rollout, later denied the existence of such a plan, saying that nothing has been decided regarding this option.

The health ministry says people will get the vaccine available at the venue, and that, for the second shot, they will need to get the same vaccine they got the first time.

More information can be found (in Japanese) on Japan’s health ministry website.

Research by Eriko Yamakuma

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