Department of Pediatrics, Niigata University Graduate School of Medical and Dental Sciences, 1-757 Asahimachi-dori, Chuo-ku, Niigata 951-8510, Japan; Pediatric Infectious Diseases, University of California, 9500 Gilman Dr. MC 0672, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92093-0672, USA.
The "vaccine gap" is a term which has been used in Japan to indicate that the current immunization program is behind compared to the programs in other developed countries. The current national immunization program (NIP) which was established under the Japanese Immunization Law includes only six vaccines (eight targeted diseases), and the rest of available vaccines have been categorized as voluntary vaccines, which require out-of-pocket expense in order for the patients to receive them. This has led the vaccination rates for the voluntary vaccines remaining low, and the incidence of the target diseases remaining high. In addition, there are a few domestic rules that exist for immunizations including (1) subcutaneous injection is the standard method of vaccination, (2) the thigh is not considered to be the common site of vaccination in infants, and (3) the intervals of administration of inactivated and live vaccines are strictly determined by law. Along with the "vaccine gap" and the domestic rules, some movements to improve our current NIP are underway; including increased calls to change the NIP from civilians and professionals, the establishment of a group by the representatives from 13 medical professional societies asking the government to consider the immunization policy a "national policy" and seeking the establishment of a new and reorganized national immunization technical advisory group (NITAG). In addition, the Vaccination Subcommittee of Health Sciences Council was formed in the government to reform the current Immunization Law and NIP, which established a new national program for three voluntary vaccines funded by a temporary budget. We hope these new movements will fill the "vaccine gap" and that the NITAG will help ensure that vaccine policy becomes a national policy, and will provide necessary vaccinations without out-of-pocket expense to protect children in Japan from vaccine preventable diseases.