A child plays in a river in Kyoto (file image)
Vaccination is voluntary is Japan, but the vast majority of infants are fully inoculated.

Facts the best medicine for error-strewn Japanese vaccine meme

Kate Atkinson April 14, 2022

No child under the age of two is vaccinated in Japan.


False. Japanese children are vaccinated from two months and the country has consistently high inoculation rates.

A meme shared on social media claims no child under the age of two is vaccinated in Japan.

The meme, seen in this Facebook post (screenshot here), shows an infant crawling overlaid with the text: “Japan has the lowest infant death rate. No baby is vaccinated under 2 years. US has the highest Infant Death Rate and gives 28 doses of vaccines by age 2!”

It has been shared in March and April 2022 on Australian Facebook pages – such as here and here – as well as on Instagram.

However, the claim is false. Japanese parents are encouraged to have infants vaccinated for a range of serious diseases from the age of two months and available data shows inoculation rates well above 90 per cent.

Vaccinations have not been mandatory in Japan since 1994, but an English translation of the nation’s Immunisation Act states people “must endeavour” to receive routine vaccination against Class A disease, listing more than 10 including measles, tetanus and polio.

A Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare document outlines children under the age of two are subject to vaccinations for diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, measles, rubella, Japanese encephalitis, tetanus and tuberculosis.

A routine vaccine schedule released by Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases states vaccination begins when children are two months old.

Three doses of the combination diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine are given to infants before they are 12 months old.

Hepatitis B virus vaccination begins when infants are two months old, with second and third doses given at three months and seven months. The tuberculosis vaccine is given to children when they are about seven months old.

The Japan Pediatric Society also recommends a number of vaccines for children under the age of two.

Data from the World Health Organisation showed that in 2020, 96 per cent of one-year-olds in Japan received vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The latest data available (2018) for the measles vaccine showed 97 per cent of one-year-olds had been inoculated.

Julie Leask, a public health expert,  University of Sydney professor and visiting fellow at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, told AAP FactCheck in an email that the meme’s claim is “completely false”.

Professor Leask said like many anti-vaccination claims, it had “a shred of historical truth in terms of one vaccine”.

The whole cell pertussis vaccine was temporarily suspended in Japan in the 1970s following the deaths of two children within 24 hours of being vaccinated. The vaccine program recommenced two months later, but the primary course of vaccination was changed to begin at two years of age instead of three months.

Prof Leask said the government-endorsed routine vaccination schedule “clearly demonstrates that vaccination of infants begins at two months”.

The meme also incorrectly claims Japan has the lowest infant death rate. Among OECD countries, Japan is the third-lowest nation with 1.9 deaths per 1000 live births. Iceland has the lowest rate with 1.1 deaths per 1000 live births, followed by Estonia at 1.6 deaths.

In the United States, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends about 38 doses of vaccines in children aged under two, but the nation does not have the highest infant death rate, as stated in the meme.

Compared to OECD countries, the United States has the 11th-highest infant death rate with 5.7 deaths per 1000 live births. The highest among the 44 nations the OECD lists is India with 28.3 deaths per 1000 live births.

A similar claim that Japanese children are the healthiest in the world because the country has no vaccine mandates has been previously debunked.

The Verdict

A meme claiming no children under the age of two are vaccinated in Japan is false. Japanese government information shows voluntary vaccination against diseases including tetanus, diphtheria and polio begins when children are two months old, with high take-up rates for the vaccine programs.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All information, text and images included on the AAP Websites is for personal use only and may not be re-written, copied, re-sold or re-distributed, framed, linked, shared onto social media or otherwise used whether for compensation of any kind or not, unless you have the prior written permission of AAP. For more information, please refer to our standard terms and conditions.