Coupons, hotel vouchers, cars: Japan cities offering incentives for COVID-19 shots

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Coupons, hotel vouchers and even a brand new car: Municipalities across Japan are offering an array of incentives to encourage their residents to get jabbed.

While new COVID-19 infections in Japan have been hovering near their lowest levels in about a year, the fifth and the biggest wave of the pandemic this past summer continues to serve as a stark reminder of the need to prepare for a possible sixth wave of infections that could hit this autumn or winter. This past summer saw the highly infectious delta variant spread rampantly across Japan, spurring daily nationwide caseloads of nearly 26,000 and putting a heavy strain on the health care system.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will offer discount coupons and other goods starting next month to encourage people to get vaccinated, joining a chorus of local governments that are offering incentives to encourage younger people, in particular, to get a COVID-19 shot.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Friday that the capital would launch a smartphone app next month. After registering vaccination records on the metropolitan government’s official account, to be set up on Line Corp.’s messaging app on Nov. 1, vaccinated individuals can get coupons via the “Tokyo vaction” app,” a portmanteau of “vaccine” and “action,” starting Nov. 15.

The metropolitan government has begun courting businesses to provide incentives including original goods, coupons and leisure activities.

“We’re preparing various benefits, so if you’re undecided about getting vaccinated, please access the special website and think about what kind of actions are necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones from the coronavirus,” Koike told reporters.

A man on a group tour to Okinawa presents his proof of COVID-19 vaccination to an All Nippon Airways staffer at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Friday. | KYODO

Other local governments are also offering incentives. Hiroshima Prefecture, which is aiming to increase its overall vaccination rate to at least 80% from around 63% as of Oct. 10, on Tuesday offered up a car by local automaker Mazda Corp. and gift certificates. The lottery is open until the end of November for anyone who received their first shot between Wednesday and Nov. 30.

Gunma Prefecture, which in August offered fully vaccinated people age 20 to 40 a chance to win a Subaru Corp. sport utility vehicle, saw 30,000 people register for the lottery on the first day. The lottery, which also includes hotel vouchers worth up to ¥50,000 to 350 people as prizes, is open to anyone who received their second shots before Sept. 30 and applications will be accepted until Nov. 1.

Neighboring Tochigi Prefecture is also offering a variety of goods via lottery, including 10 mountain bikes, beef and rice to its residents age 18 to 39 who are fully vaccinated. The lottery is open until the end of November.

Companies such as Japan Airlines Co., All Nippon Airways Co. and East Japan Railway Co. have also been offering incentives for fully vaccinated people.

The slew of offers comes as the vaccination rate among younger people remains under 50%, in contrast with over 60% for people over 40. The discrepancy could be partly explained by the fact the rollout for the general public started with older people, with many younger people waiting longer to get their shots.

The ratio of fully vaccinated people age 12 to 19 was 33.68%, compared with 45.84% for people in their 20s, 49.65% for those in their 30s, 60.63% for those in their 40s, 74.04% for those in their 50s, 82.1% for people age 60-64 and 86.64% for those age 65 to 69, according to Cabinet Secretariat data published Monday.

Hiroshima Prefecture is offering people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine a chance to win a Mazda 3 Fastback. | HIROSHIMA MAZDA / VIA KYODO
Hiroshima Prefecture is offering people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine a chance to win a Mazda 3 Fastback. | HIROSHIMA MAZDA / VIA KYODO

A growing number of local governments are aiming to fully inoculate at least 80% of their residents by the end of November as the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida works to get the necessary number of doses distributed.

Changing the minds of those who are hesitant to get vaccinated is a key pillar of the central government’s plan to reboot the economy. Once it launches its coronavirus exit strategy, the government will no longer discourage those who have been vaccinated or can prove they are not infected from traveling, dining out or attending public events.

But persuading younger people may be a challenge, as their generally heavier use of social media can also make them susceptible to anti-vaccine disinformation and conspiracy theories that inundate such platforms.

A poll released by the Tokyo Metropolitan Infectious Disease Surveillance Center in August showed that the percentage of those in their 20s who said they are either “definitely” or “probably” not going to get vaccinated stood at 19% and 18.8% for men and women, respectively.

The survey also indicated that the percentage of those disinclined to get a shot tended to drop the older the respondents got, with 12.1% and 8.7% of men and women in their 50s, respectively, expressing reluctance.

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