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Cities get innovative to promote vaccines

TOKYO >> From free bath salt giveaways to shopping coupons and discounted taxi rides, municipalities across Japan are coming up with an array of incentive programs to not only prod residents into getting vaccinated against COVID-19, but to help revitalize struggling local businesses.

The central government remains more cautious, however, over concern that those unable to get vaccinated might feel excluded.

But the city of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, is moving forward. It is creating a discount program at local stores for vaccinated residents.

“Our hope is residents will find the discounts motivating enough to go get the shots,” said Ryosuke Hanaki, a health official. “It could also help the local economy.”

Yet few details for the shots have been fleshed out. A shortage, Hanaki said, is expected to delay the start of vaccinations until the middle of the month.

Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, meanwhile, is partnering with two drug companies, Earth Corp. and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., to distribute free bath powders and soft drinks to seniors who get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, in Shizuoka, it’s all about transportation. Taxi rides to and from vaccination sites in the city will be subsidized for older residents. The initiative, said Mayor Nobuhiro Tanabe, is in part meant to “support the taxi industry going through a rough time amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

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