Japan’s homeless among those struggling to access COVID-19 vaccines


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Sleeping out is tough. But when the government emergency aid of 100,000 yen for all residents failed to reach most of the homeless last year, such a man in his seventies living in Tokyo felt even more excluded.

Now, a year later, that resentment has reignited as he has similar difficulties accessing the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Without a certificate of residence or ID, I can’t get the vaccine even if I wanted to,” he said when he was given a serving of curry and rice Tuesday morning in the Missionaries of Charity Brothers soup kitchen in Taito.

The man who asked not to be named belongs to a segment of the population likely to be left behind by Japan’s vaccine rollout, despite having a normal job and already struggling with a pre-existing medical condition.

Nearly a quarter of the country’s 126 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. or Moderna Inc.

Kazuo Takagi, a lay brother in the Roman Catholic community, says many street residents have not been vaccinated because they are not being sent vaccination vouchers because they have no lack of residence permits.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Welfare asked local governments in late April to organize vaccinations for the estimated 4,000 homeless people who live in parks and rivers across Japan.

However, the lack of a residence certificate or other form of identification poses a challenge for many municipalities that are responsible for sending vaccination vouchers.

Officials from Tokyo’s Taito and Shinjuku districts say they recognize the need to vaccinate people on the street and are considering measures for the vulnerable group.

The international non-governmental organization Doctors of the World Japan conducted a survey of 314 people who came to soup kitchen events in Tokyo in late May and found that 58% of them wanted to be vaccinated. But about 30% of them said they couldn’t get vaccination vouchers, and many of them said they didn’t have any ID at all.

With this in mind, some homeless support groups allow them to use the groups’ office addresses as their registered address. The workaround allows them to get the vaccination vouchers and make reservations for the vaccination, but many are reluctant to take that approach.

The homeless, including those who live in internet cafes, are just one of the groups of people who need to proactively consult with local governments in order to receive a vaccine.

Pregnant women who have returned to their parents’ home for birth, students living outside the home, and company employees living apart from their families can contact their current municipality of residence for the vaccination.

In addition, vaccinations are planned for nearly 2.9 million foreign residents in Japan, including foreign students and participants in the Technical Intern Training Program. Vaccination vouchers for these people will be issued at the same time as those for Japanese citizens, city government officials said, although foreign visitors to Japan are not eligible for short-term visits.

Hironori Kusuhara, a manager in the Shinjuku city council, says the station has also received inquiries from families of bedridden people who cannot go to a vaccination center and that vaccinations can be arranged on an individual basis if such people cannot is to be vaccinated by their family doctors.

Last week, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi announced that the government would begin offering free vaccinations to Japanese overseas who are temporarily returning from August 1 after receiving many requests for such arrangements.

A State Department official said the ministry conducted a survey of about 450,000 Japanese nationals living in 169 countries and that about 40,000 of them expressed a desire to return home for the vaccination.

A special online reservation page for Japanese people living abroad will be set up in mid to late July. Vaccinations will be carried out at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture until early January, with Pfizer Inc.’s vaccinations being allocated to people aged 12 and over, the State Department said.

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