This is an excellent question, as many countries have different opinions, and regulations, concerning the vaccination system for children. Here’s what our panel had to say…
First let’s talk about the schedule…
E.S. starts with in the US, I think your pediatrician will likely say, “You need to have your child come in for vaccinations A, B, and C.” so that your child is vaccinated according to schedule. But in Japan you only receive notices for large group vaccinations, such as BCG and polio. As a first-time mom, I naively assumed then I would then receive a post card informing me it was time for each subsequent vaccination. Nope! So I was shocked when during a routine check-up, the pediatrician then informed me I was a year behind vaccination schedule. Here, the onus to get your child vaccinated in a timely manner is on you. H.A.L.M commiserates, I expected more guidance from doctors, too, like back home in Canada. We ended up waaaay behind.
M.R. says that in the US most vaccines are started way earlier and Heb B is now given in the hospital at birth. MMR is different and no BCG in US. There are more routine vaccines in the US as well.
K.L. agrees with what others have said about it being much more your responsibility to keep up here – in Australia they send you letters if you’re behind, and you get PAID for having your kids up to date, (about $500, when my son was born 5 years ago), but here all the hard work is down to you.
However, E.S. points out that’s where the boshi techo is of great use. I love that the boshi techo has all immunization records in one place, though. My mom has to keep writing down when we had what shot in her address book for school records and it was so disorganized.
J.S. agrees that the boshi techo is fantastic! (boshi techo, for those not in the know, is a handbook that is given to every pregnant mother to keep records on until your child is an adult…see the picture below) J.E.M. notes that her son was born in the U.S. and the hospital gave them a vaccination/shot record, which they keep to help remind them when they need to do what. Many mothers pointed out that getting a bilingual boshi techo is not always the easiest thing, and may not be considered official. You may have to order it yourself, and be a bit pushy to get one.
OK…but which vaccines are our children supposed to get? Note that not all vaccinations are free, or required. This may be different from your home country.
J.S. notes that Hep B and mumps are mandatory in Canada but not here. C.A. points out Hep A is now given to kids in the US. A.K. states that I don’t think any vaccines are mandatory here in Japan so you are free to opt out any if you wish. We get a letter with the forms etc for the free/rebated ones that the govt covers. Otherwise, it’s a matter of checking in with the doctor about what should be done next.
K.L points out there are fewer free vaccines on offer here – chicken pox, Hep B, mumps, pneumococcal, rotavirus, Meningococcal C are not offered free here. Though HiB became free recently.
E.S. says that the number of free vaccines and when they are offered also changes each year, so just because something was one way for Child #1, don’t assume it will be the same for Child #2. Another thing to be aware of is while the US offers MMR, in Japan it is just MR. BCG is also not routinely offered in the US, so if your child has had the BCG immunization your child will test positive for TB, so hold onto your boshi techo to prove that it’s because of the immunization, not because they actually have TB.
H.E. interjects that MR is Measles and Rubella, Mumps is separate and in most areas an optional (you pay) vaccine. She adds, I have yet to decide if having fewer recommended vaccines is a good thing. While I would like to get the flu, mumps and chicken pox vaccines for free, I also like being able to choose which additional vaccines to get.
S.R.N. notes that Nagoya’s mayor just announced that chicken pox will be provided for free from the next fiscal year (April). We just had two cases of chicken pox, so this is good news for parents with younger children.
The bottom line? The vaccination schedule and requirements may very well be different between your home country and Japan. Check with your pediatrician.