Comparisons between Japan and US infant vaccination programs are inaccurate

18 July 2022
What was claimed

Japan has the lowest infant death rate, no child under two is vaccinated. The US has the highest infant death rate and gives 28 doses of vaccines by age two.

Our verdict

Japan does not have the lowest infant mortality rate in the world, nor does the US have the highest. It is also not true that Japan doesn’t vaccinate children under two years old.

A Facebook post implies that vaccinations are linked to infant deaths, by making inaccurate comparisons between infant mortality rates in Japan and the United States and their respective vaccination programmes.

The post states: “Japan has the lowest infant death rate, no child under 2 is vaccinated” and “US has the highest Infant Death Rate and gives 28 doses of vaccines by age 2!”

Japan does not have the lowest infant death rate, nor does the United States have the highest. It is also not true that Japan does not vaccinate children under 2 years old.

While Japan does have a lower infant mortality rate than the US, there is no evidence to suggest that this is linked to the infant vaccination programmes of the respective countries. 

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Japan and US infant mortality rates

According to United Nations data, as of 2020 Japan had an estimated infant mortality rate—that is, the number of children that die under one year of age per 1,000 live births in a year—of 1.8 per 1,000 live births, the joint fourth lowest rate in the world, behind Iceland, San Marino and Estonia, and equal to Slovenia, Norway and Singapore.

In the same year, the infant mortality rate in the United States was estimated at 5.4 per 1,000 live births. While this rate is higher than some other comparable countries, including Japan, it is in the top 50 lowest rates worldwide. The country with the highest infant mortality rate is Sierra Leone, which sadly sees 80.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

We’ve written before about false claims that vaccines are linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). There is no evidence to suggest that vaccinations of any kind are linked to SIDS, however there is significant evidence that vaccinations against a range of diseases have saved millions of young lives worldwide.

Vaccine schedule claims are also inaccurate

It is not true that Japan does not vaccinate children until they are two years old. According to the Japan Pediatric Society, several vaccines are recommended for children under the age of two years old, including against polio, tuberculosis, measles/rubella and others.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended vaccine schedule, US infants can be vaccinated as many as 25 times before they turn two years old. The schedule recommends 10 different types of vaccine, several of which are administered in multiple doses over the course of several months.

Child vaccination rates against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles are higher in Japan than the United States, according to data collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

As stated by AFP Fact Check, in Japan, immunisation law was amended in 1994 to prohibit mandatory vaccinations, while in the US, in all 50 states certain vaccinations are required in order for children to enrol in public schools. We’ve also previously written about Japan’s vaccination laws as part of our work monitoring misinformation online.


Image courtesy of Kelli McClintock

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