A bill to provide coronavirus vaccinations free of charge with the central government covering the cost was passed in the Diet, offering a key plan to stem the virus as Japan struggles with its worst-yet wave of infections.
Wednesday’s passage in the Upper House following approval in the more powerful Lower House will bring the law into effect. It also makes local governments responsible for administering the immunizations, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The law includes a provision obliging citizens in principle to make efforts to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. But the provision will not go into effect unless the effectiveness and safety of vaccines are fully confirmed.
The move comes as a new wave of virus infections has prompted the worst-hit areas of the country to call on bars and restaurants to close early, and has forced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to partially suspend the Go To Travel campaign, which is intended to shore up suffering regional economies. While the death toll in Japan is by far the lowest in any Group of Seven advanced nation, the country suffered its worst economic downturn on record in the April-June quarter.
Suga has vowed to secure enough doses of vaccine for the “people of the country” by the first half of next year and it remains unclear to what extent foreign residents will be eligible for free vaccinations. Not all Japanese nationals may be enthusiastic about immunization. An Ipsos survey conducted in October showed that 69% of Japanese respondents were willing to get a vaccine if available, compared with the global average of 73%.