Communities, workplaces should help foreign residents get inoculated in Japan

To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, it is necessary to raise the COVID-19 inoculation rate within society as a whole, including foreign nationals living in Japan. Local governments should devise measures to prevent them from being left behind.

About 2.82 million foreign nationals are registered as residents of Japan. Of this number, people aged 12 or older who are listed in their local government’s Basic Resident Registration records are eligible to be vaccinated free of charge if they wish. Even people who are not listed in the system can receive shots if the leader of their municipal government approves it.

There is no difference between Japanese and foreign nationals in terms of infection countermeasures. Efforts by local communities to tackle the situation together improve the effectiveness of these measures.

Cluster infections have been reported at dormitories for foreign technical interns and overseas students in a number of places around the country. Thorough vaccinations are a powerful preventive measure. A system must be put in place to make sure that foreign nationals who wish to be vaccinated can readily receive shots.

The biggest obstacle is likely the language barrier. There have been cases in which people have missed opportunities to be inoculated because they could not read the Japanese on the vaccination voucher sent to them by local governments, or they were unable to properly fill out the pre-inoculation screening form.

Many people hesitate to go to the hospital due to concerns about language problems.

In Hamamatsu, where about 25,000 foreign nationals reside, only 54.7% of foreign residents had received a first shot as of mid-September. That was 10 percentage points below the rate for the city’s entire population.

Since then, the Hamamatsu city government has implemented such measures as setting up websites dedicated to making vaccination reservations in languages including Portuguese and English, and having interpreters at inoculation sites. As a result, more than 70% of foreign residents in the city have now received two doses of vaccine.

Various efforts have reportedly raised the overall inoculation rate in Gifu Prefecture. The governments of four cities with large numbers of foreign residents have asked the business operators employing them to help with the vaccination campaign, and doctors traveling in emergency vehicles have visited a church to inoculate people.

It is hoped the central and local governments will expand such efforts in cooperation with companies where foreign residents work and at Japanese-language schools.

The lack of a system to monitor the vaccination status of foreign residents is an issue that needs to be improved.

The central government’s Vaccination Record System does not have a category to check the vaccination situation of foreign residents. As a result, local governments, which independently calculate the inoculation rate among foreign residents, are forced to compare vaccination vouchers with records of inoculations.

Preparations are underway for a third round of vaccinations, but it is unclear when the pandemic will be brought under control. Additional doses may become necessary. The central government must make further progress in improving the system.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 20, 2021.