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Japan Leaps Toward Digital Records System as Vaccines Roll Out to the Public

The government aims to make use of the operational expertise gained from the VRS project as it prepares to launch the Digital Agency in September 2021.

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The Japanese government launched a new vaccine records system (VRS) just as the Japanese public, beginning with senior citizens over 65, finally saw COVID-19 vaccines begin on Monday, April 12.  

The VRS project is part of the national effort to facilitate cooperation between the national and local governments in the vaccine rollout. It is hoped that the information will improve distribution, as well as monitoring of the effectiveness of the vaccine, throughout the country. 

It is also attracting attention as a touchstone for the success or failure of the new Digital Agency, a signature policy of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government to speed up digitalization throughout Japan.

“The input was faster than I expected,” said Taro Kono, Minister of State for Vaccines in a news conference on April 6, following a trial demonstration of the system at a virtual inoculation center. “You can’t make a mistake because you just need to press the button on the screen.”

The hard work is done ahead of time, however. The new system requires advance local government input of basic  information from the vaccination ledger and the basic resident register, such as name and date of birth, My Number (equivalent of a national social security number), and the inoculation ticket number sent to the resident.

Recipients show their 18-digit inoculation ticket when they arrive for their vaccination appointment. When the person in charge enters the inoculation number into the terminal, it matches to the pre-recorded data for the resident and the vaccination is recorded in the VRS. 

As a result, what previously took 2 to 3 months to be reflected in the vaccination ledger, can now be grasped instantly.

The development of this new system started in January under the leadership of Minister Taro Kono. Led by Kono’s aide Fumiaki Kobayashi, a member of the Lower House of the National Diet, a team of about 15 people mainly from private sectors and local governments, undertook development of the new system starting on January 20. 

The implementation of the VRS will become an “important part of the future tasks of the Digital agency” Kobayashi said.

On the other hand, the initial registration of each resident’s information is an undeniable burden on local governments, as the project calls for inoculating about 100 million people twice each in a short period of time. As a consequence, many municipalities will also operate their own inoculation reservation management system in parallel. What’s more, local governments also have to respond to another system, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s “V-SYS”, which manages vaccine distributions.

Mr. Kobayashi used video conferences to appeal to local governments for cooperation on the VRS. He responded carefully to their questions, while explaining the reasons they should support laying the groundwork for the Digital Agency.

“Maybe input will increase work [up front], but the process of inoculation as a whole will become more efficient,” said Daisuke Chiba, assistant manager of the Information Systems Division of Funabashi City in Chiba Prefecture, who was seconded to the Information and Communication Technology Strategy Office of the Cabinet Secretariat to help with development of the new system.

Takashi Sakamoto, assistant manager of the ICT ( Information and Computer Technology) Promotion Division of Kadoma City, which is in Osaka Prefecture, also commented: “We appreciate the way [the VRS team] listened to the voices of local governments at the development stage.” 

The government aims to make use of the operational expertise gained from the VRS project as it prepares to launch the Digital Agency in September 2021. 

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(Read the related Sankei Shimbun article in Japanese at this link.)


Author: Masako Nagashima