The Japanese government will prioritize students hoping to attend university abroad in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout ahead of the new academic year from September, sources with knowledge of the matter said Thursday.
The move comes as some schools in countries such as the United States have adopted requirements for students to be inoculated before they are allowed to participate in in-person classes.
Students heading to such universities will become eligible after June 21, when Japan expands its vaccine rollout to workplaces and campuses, the sources said.
Health care workers and people aged 65 and older are currently the only groups receiving the shots, with those with underlying conditions such as diabetes set to join later this month.
Only students enrolling in courses for a degree will be eligible, with those in short-term programs excluded. After being inoculated, they will receive certificates that they can submit to overseas universities.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will set up a dedicated website, possibly this month, to process bookings, and aims to finish administering the shots by September.
According to the ministry, 58,720 Japanese students were enrolled in degree courses at universities abroad in 2018, with 18,105 in the United States, 14,230 in China and 9,196 in Taiwan.
Japan is rushing to ramp up its vaccine rollout, which was initially held up by a slow approval process and shortage of doses, and has more recently suffered from a dearth of medical professionals to administer shots.
Only around 9 percent of the country's population has received at least one vaccine dose, compared with roughly 50 percent in the United States.
Around 2,800 new coronavirus cases were reported across Japan on Thursday, as Tokyo and some other prefectures remain under a state of emergency that was recently extended to June 20.
The capital confirmed 508 cases, bringing its seven-day rolling average to 475.3, the first time it has fallen below 500 since April 14. Osaka Prefecture reported 226 new cases the same day.
The government hopes starting inoculations at firms such as Panasonic Corp. and Japan Airlines Co. will accelerate the effort, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday meeting with leaders from major business groups including the Japan Business Federation, known as Keidanren, to ask for their cooperation.
Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Japan will improve its support for foreign residents who may face problems receiving treatment for COVID-19 or being vaccinated due to language barriers.
"Having (foreign residents) feel they are being supported is extremely important, both from the viewpoint of relations with their home countries and realizing an inclusive society," Kato told a press conference.
Japan is considering making vaccines available for foreigners illegally residing in the country, according to government sources.