The health ministry has decided to add three immunizations--against cervical cancer and two infections that can cause bacterial meningitis--to its routine vaccination program for children as early as fiscal 2013, it has been learned.
The central and local governments have already been subsidizing fees for the three vaccinations as an emergency measure since fiscal 2010. Though the subsidies are set to be terminated at the end of this fiscal year, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to make the subsidies permanent, ministry sources said.
The decision will bring Japan in line with the United States and European countries, where the three vaccines are already part of routine immunization programs, according to the sources.
The ministry's program will include vaccines for cervical cancer, Haemophilus influenzae Type B (Hib) and pneumococcus among children.
The government made its decision because the termination of subsidies for those immunizations was seen as undesirable in light of the fact that an increasing number of young people have been diagnosed with those conditions.
The ministry aims to submit to the Diet by the end of the current ordinary session a bill to revise the Preventive Vaccination Law.
The routine vaccination program consists of immunizations based on the law and administered regularly by municipal governments. They are divided into two categories. Many local governments offer free vaccinations against diseases in the first category, such as diphtheria and pertussis. Examples of second-category vaccines are flu shots for the elderly.
In addition to the three vaccinations, the ministry will include four others in the routine vaccination program as soon as it can secure funding for them.
Among the four, the ministry aims at prioritizing vaccines against chicken pox and mumps. After them, vaccinations for hepatitis B and pneumococcus among the elderly would be included, according to the sources.
The decision is set to be officially approved at a meeting of the ministry's Health Science Council to be held Wednesday.
Currently, the four vaccinations are optional. However, there are gaps among municipalities in subsidies for them.
Making all seven immunizations part of the routine vaccination program would cost 200 billion yen per year, the sources said.
Japan lags behind the United States and European countries in providing subsidies for the routine vaccination program because of long-standing fears about possible health risks posed by immunizations, according to the ministry sources.
Niigata University Prof. Akihiko Saito, the vice head of the Japan Pediatric Society's committee on vaccination and infectious diseases, described the ministry's decision as "a huge step."
At the same time, however, Saito expressed dissatisfaction with the ministry not expanding the routine vaccination program to cover all seven vaccinations at once.
"It's strange to treat them differently just for budget reasons when they are all important vaccinations," the professor said.