Japan suffers from one of the lowest fertility rates in the world – 1.39 (2011) - well below 2.1 population replacement level. This combined with a rapidly aging populace has become such a worry for the government that women are actually now being paid to have babies.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a Japanese program that pays new parents $3,300 per year for every new child until age 15, along with offering less direct incentives, like state-supported daycare and tuition waivers, was implemented in 2009.
The result? The fertility rate barely budged.
With cash offers for babies not yet working, Japan is being extremely cautious in implementing any long term health initiatives which affect women’s reproductive organs.
On June 14, 2013, Japan’s health ministry raised eyebrows around the world by deciding to formally withdraw its recommendation for HPV vaccination (Gardasil, Cervarix) to protect girls against cervical cancer.
The reason? Hundreds of complaints from Japanese citizens about possible side effects such as long-term pain, numbness and even paralysis.
In an attempt to avoid completely alienating the World Health Organization, which recommends the HPV vaccine used by many developed nations, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare insisted that it is not suspending the use of the vaccine, but simply instructed local Japanese governments not to promote it until more study is conducted on its safety.
Mariko Momoi, vice president of the International University of Health and Welfare, who headed the task force on the matter said:
“The decision (not to recommend the vaccination) does not mean that the vaccine itself is problematic from the viewpoint of safety. By implementing investigations, we want to offer information that can make the people feel more at ease.”
Blah, blah, blah. The best government-speak in the world doesn’t drown out this message which is LOUD and clear. The Japanese health ministry doesn’t trust the HPV vaccines Gardasil or Cervarix.
It is important to note that it is rare for the Japanese health ministry to withdraw a recommendation for a vaccine that is used regularly by local governments and is spelled out as part of revisions to the Preventative Vaccination Law approved in April 2013.
The cervical cancer vaccine is still available to girls for free under subsidies provided by the law although medical institutions must now inform them beforehand that the ministry does not recommend it.
So far, an estimated 3.28 million people have received the vaccination in Japan alone. However, 1,968 cases of possible side effects, including body pain, have been reported. Side effects in the United States are shown in the chart to the right, courtesy of SaneVax.org.
The ministry’s task force discussed 43 of the 1,968 adverse cases in Japan. Based on its analysis into the matter, the task force concluded that the ministry should withdraw its recommendation until it can offer appropriate information about what caused the sometimes debilitating side effects.
The ministry’s investigation is expected to take several months. At that time, a decision will be rendered whether to reinstate recommendation for HPV vaccination or continue to withhold it.
Mika Matsufuji, head of a group of parents who say their children have suffered side effects from the cervical cancer vaccine, said:
“We welcome the decision not to recommend the vaccination even though it is a small step. Parents can decide whether their children should receive the vaccination or not.”
Japan Bucks the Vaccination Trend Once Again
This is not the first time Japan has bucked the trend toward more vaccinations.
In 1975, Japan eliminated all vaccines for children under the age of 2. The country’s infant mortality rate subsequently plummeted to the lowest level in the world. Japan changed its infant vaccination schedule again in 1995, but it remains one of the least aggressive in the world with Japan’s infant mortality rate (IMR) remaining low as well (third in 2009). The United States ranks 34th.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist