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Japan local gov'ts set up station jab sites, offer prizes to boost inoculations among young

A group vaccination site set up inside the Kitte Hakata shopping center in front of JR Hakata Station, by the Fukuoka Municipal Government, is seen in this image taken on Oct. 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Akihiko Tsuchida)

FUKUOKA -- Local governments across Japan have been working to boost coronavirus vaccinations among young people by setting up inoculation sites in front of stations and offering chances to win prizes, among other efforts.

    The coronavirus vaccination rate has surpassed 60% in Japan, where the vaccine rollout has been slow compared to the United States, Europe and other developed countries. When limited to individuals aged 65 or older, the vaccination rate reaches 90%. As the Japanese government's target deadline set at the beginning of November to complete vaccinations for all individuals who wish to receive shots is approaching, local governments have been engaging in various efforts to boost inoculation rates. Some have set aside time slots designated for young people, while others have set up vaccination sites in front of stations and other convenient locations. There have also been vaccination incentives offering vehicles, travel coupons, and other prizes in a lottery for those who get vaccinated.

    The Fukuoka Municipal Government set up a group vaccination site in Kitte Hakata, a shopping center in front of JR Hakata Station, on Oct. 1. The vaccination site is open until 9 p.m. on weekdays, to make it easy for people to drop by after work or school. The west Japan city's aim of improving vaccination rates for the young has been a success, as individuals aged in their 30s or younger have accounted for 70% of all visitors.

    A 23-year-old company employee from Hakata Ward received their first shot on the day the vaccination site was set up. Although they initially thought of getting vaccinated one or two weeks later, they said they moved up the date as "it's easily accessible." The municipal government hopes to achieve its goal of having 80% of residents aged 12 or older who are eligible for inoculations be vaccinated twice by the end of October.

    Fukuoka Mayor Soichiro Takashima expressed enthusiasm, saying, "We're in the final stage before reaching our goal. We'd like to arrange an environment that makes it easy to get vaccinated, and bring back normal daily life for our residents."

    Other local governments have also been bolstering efforts to raise vaccination rates among young people, such as Miyazaki Prefecture, which recently set up vaccination slots enabling young people to receive shots without making reservations. Local government officials in several areas have said that the issue of residents not being able to receive shots even if they wish to get vaccinated has been resolved.

    A group vaccination site set up inside the Kitte Hakata shopping center in front of JR Hakata Station, by the Fukuoka Municipal Government, is seen in this image taken on Oct. 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Akihiko Tsuchida)

    Meanwhile, there remains a large gap between the vaccination rates of the elderly and the young. As of Oct. 11, 90% of senior citizens in Japan aged 65 or older had received their second vaccine shot, while double vaccination rates remained at low levels of 33.68% for individuals aged between 12 and 19, as well as 45.84% for those in their 20s.

    Against such a backdrop, there have been many local governments that encourage residents to get vaccinated by offering prizes. In September, the Kagoshima Prefectural Government set up a group vaccination site targeting individuals aged 39 or under, and began to offer local specialties and discount coupons for hotels within the prefecture, equivalent in price to around 3,000 to 5,000 yen (about $26-$44), to 500 people chosen by lottery among those who received their first COVID-19 vaccine shot. In two weeks, the prefecture achieved its goal of having about 10,000 people get vaccinated, and a prefectural official said they were able to "draw interest through the prizes."

    Similar initiatives have been taken in Okinawa Prefecture, where infections surged at the worst pace in the country during this summer's fifth wave. The city of Urasoe is giving travel coupons for one night and two day stays on Ishigaki Island to some residents chosen by lottery among those vaccinated twice in October or November. The city also added lightweight vehicles and coupons donated from local supermarkets as prizes. The city of Nago also began a program targeting residents aged 39 or younger that are vaccinated at least once by Nov. 9. Under the program, lottery winners are given 5,000-yen gift certificates that can be used at retailers in the city. The Hiroshima Prefectural Government is also holding a campaign where individuals can win Mazda vehicles and other prizes.

    There have been voices questioning the appropriateness of vaccination incentives, with an Oita prefectural official pointing out that vaccinations are optional and that "people who were vaccinated before the prize programs may find it unfair." Meanwhile, a representative of the Urasoe government said, "The vaccination rate of the young generation remained at a low level of below 50%. We feel sorry as there have been complaints on unfairness from residents who had been vaccinated early, and there are also people who cannot be vaccinated. Nonetheless, we'd still like to utilize the incentives as a means to boost vaccinations."

    (Japanese original by Yuki Imano and Akihiko Tsuchida, Kyushu News Department)

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