Japan may consider issuing certificates to those who have been inoculated against the novel coronavirus if pressed by calls overseas for systems to ensure safe cross-border travel, the minister in charge of vaccination efforts said Monday.
"If requested internationally, we will have no other choice but to consider issuing inoculation certificates," Taro Kono said in a session of parliament, adding the certificates can be processed through government vaccine rollout management systems.
Kono's remarks deviated from his earlier position that Japan would not be in favor of issuing such documentation and comes as debate on the issue starts in the United States and Europe. Israel has already introduced a COVID-19 vaccine certificate scheme.
Last month, Kono appeared to shoot down the idea of using COVID-19 vaccine certificates for official purposes, including as a vaccine passport that would permit international travel. He argued doing so would exclude those who cannot be inoculated because of allergies.
On Monday, the former foreign minister also said the government is "not thinking as of now" of using such certificates domestically.
Bearing in mind that some people may worry about making time to go to vaccination venues, the government plans to urge companies to allow employees to take paid leave to get shots and to go to hospital in the event of side effects, its top spokesman said.
"We will examine what steps we can take, including making requests regarding the issue to the business community and considering whether the government should allow national public employees to take paid leave (to get shots)," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference.
Among domestic companies, Nippon Life Insurance Co. has decided not to dock pay if employees get jabs during their working hours.
Japan began rolling out vaccinations last month, with health care workers at the head of the queue.
On Monday morning, the fifth batch of COVID-19 vaccines developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE arrived at Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo.
The latest shipment from the drugmaker's factory in Belgium can cover 216,000 doses, with a vial containing six shots. The government plans to deliver them to prefectural governments for the inoculation of the 4.8 million health care workers prioritized in the vaccination program.
Japan has lagged behind other countries such as the United States and Britain in its vaccine rollout amid a supply shortage due to production delays at Pfizer's factory and the European Union's export controls.
But, as the country is expected to receive more vaccines than initially scheduled from the week starting next Monday, the central government expects to secure and send sufficient supply for the two shots to cover health care workers by the week starting May 10.