TOKYO -- Japan is considering using its national ID system for its coronavirus vaccine rollout program, hoping to avoid the pitfalls and confusion that was created when the government dispersed economic aid earlier in the pandemic.
Vaccinating the country's 125 million people has taken on a heightened sense of urgency as hospital officials have warned the medical system was near collapse and the nation prepares to host the Tokyo Summer Games this year. While Japan has kept its rates of COVID-19 relatively low compared with the Americas and Europe, it has seen a surge in the new year and is under its second state of emergency due to daily rises in cases.
To ensure a smooth rollout of vaccines, the government wants a more unified approach to vaccination distribution and will likely use the "My Number" ID system. That system is a 12-digit number issued to all citizens and residents of Japan, including foreign residents, used for taxes, social security and disaster situations.
Currently, vaccines are distributed differently in each municipality. Such disparities could cause confusion in rolling out the vaccines, which need to be taken twice within a certain period.
The government plans to start vaccinating medical workers from the end of February. From late March at the earliest, people 65 and older will receive the shots. People getting vaccines will take coupons from local municipal authorities to the vaccination sites, which are typically medical facilities near their homes.
The new system would be linked to the national "My Number" IDs and the vaccination coupons. Information about who took the vaccine in which places would be shared by municipalities across Japan. The government aims to start operating the system by the spring, when they expect mass inoculations to begin.
The government was highly criticized last year from the confusion created when it tried to distribute a stimulus package, which included a payment of 100,000 yen ($965) to each person. But months after the stimulus was approved people still had not received the money, leading to a rush on municipal government offices.
Some are worried that there would be similar confusion with the vaccination program.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said that he would think of ways to effectively manage vaccination data. The new system would prevent confusion when a vaccine recipient moved from one municipality to the other. The system would also be used to issue certificates to prove a person was vaccinated, which would likely be obtained at the vaccination site or via online.