Rubella offer being ignored in Japan

Australian Medical Association/AusMed

The Japanese government is in the middle of a concerted effort to raise awareness of a rubella outbreak in the country, and is offering free antibody tests for the most vulnerable demographic.

Yet despite this push, the test offer is being largely ignored.

Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has made tests for rubella antibodies and the rubella vaccination free to men aged between 40 and 57, the most likely to be infected group.

But, according to reports in the Japan Times, only about eight per cent of the first group of these targeted men (40-47) have taken up the offer. The coupons the men could use for three years are barely being used, despite having all been distributed.

According to data published in the Times, the number of rubella cases in Japan declined for four consecutive years to a low of 91 in 2017. In 2018, however, the number of cases jumped to 2,946. To date this year, there were 2,196 cases nationwide. Most of the patients are men in their 30s to 50s who did not receive vaccinations as children.

Only 8.4 per cent of the targeted men, or 544,315 people, have undergone testing, while about 1.5 percent, or 97,265 people, received shots between April and July.

The offer is set to expire at the end of the 2021 fiscal year.

“The hurdle remains high because the men in the targeted age range are prime-age workers, so it is difficult for them to find time to do it,” ministry official Takuma Kato is reported as saying.

The government is urging companies to include the antibody test using the coupons in their regular workplace medical examinations. The aim of the government is to eliminate the infections by the end of fiscal year 2020. It is working to further increase awareness through a highly visible campaign.

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