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Local gov't in Japan offers car, coupons in lottery to boost vaccinations among the young

Gunma Gov. Ichita Yamamoto is seen announcing a vaccination incentive program for young individuals at the Gunma Prefectural Government building on Aug. 6, 2021. (Mainichi/Naomichi Senoo)

MAEBASHI -- The Gunma Prefectural Government has launched a vaccination incentive targeting young people aged in their 20s and 30s, offering a vehicle and travel coupons as prizes in a lottery for those who have received their second COVID-19 vaccine shot by the end of September.

    The prefectural government resorted to the measure in a bid to reduce the number of young people who are not vaccinated, after considering a tendency particularly among younger people to shun vaccines.

    "We were prepared for criticism, but wanted to avoid the existence of 'holes' created by a specific generation remaining unvaccinated," said a prefectural official. Ever since Gunma Gov. Ichita Yamamoto revealed the vaccination incentive on Aug. 6, residents have expressed numerous opposing views with the prefectural government, such as "Why is it limited to those in their 20s and 30s?" and "You're just trying to use prizes as bait."

    Last year, British medical journal The Lancet published survey findings by a team including University of London researchers that asked individuals, aged 18 or older, in 149 countries and regions about their trust in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. The study, conducted between 2015 and 2019, found that in 2015, Japan ranked 147th place for the public's confidence in the safety of vaccines, and was worst in 2019. As for confidence in the efficacy of vaccines, Japan ranked 147th and 148th place in the years of 2015 and 2019 respectively.

    Regarding Japan's ranking as one of the countries with the lowest vaccine confidence in the world, the research team said in its analysis that "this might be linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine safety scares."

    Following news coverage regarding ill health after receiving the HPV vaccine, which prevents cases of cervical cancer, Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare halted proactive promotion of the vaccinations in 2013, and the vaccination rate fell to 0.6% as a result. The generation which was subject to HPV vaccinations, who were sixth-graders to first-year high school girls at the time, are currently in their 20s. The Gunma prefectural official explained that they figured "concern surrounding vaccines may be particularly deep-seated among this generation."

    Another reason behind the prefecture's decision to offer prizes to promote vaccinations among the young is the generation's frequent usage of smartphones. Officials apparently thought that young people had fewer opportunities to access information on vaccines, as it can be difficult to be exposed to news from various fields with smartphones alone.

    The prefectural official said, "We'd like for them to take an interest through the vehicle and other prizes, and take notice of coronavirus vaccine information, even if in the slightest."

    (Japanese original by Tetsuya Shoji, Shibukawa Resident Bureau)

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