Amid a global resurgence of new coronavirus infections, initiatives to develop therapeutic drugs and vaccines are progressing at a fevered pitch worldwide.
There can be no way to break free from the scourge of the killer global COVID-19 pandemic that has wrecked so many lives and economies, except through the successful development of treatments to stop it. The Japanese government should do everything in its power to promote the development and secure supplies of effective vaccines.
In particular, a top priority now is to shorten the time for vaccine development. Usually, development and manufacturing of a new vaccine requires about 10 years. Given the urgency of the need to address the coronavirus pandemic, a new type of vaccine development has been underway, using genetic materials to produce antibodies that induce an immune system response. The Japanese government must throw its support proactively behind such research, both at home and abroad.
Financial support is already being provided to domestic companies engaged in vaccine development.
In addition, the Japanese government has reached an agreement with leading pharmaceutical companies in the United States and Great Britain to secure 120 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines when they are successfully completed. Under the arrangements, part of the manufacturing will take place in Japan, which will facilitate swift and efficient distribution.
Looking around the world, China asserts it will develop its own vaccine for the “global public good.” However, considering the risks from excessive dependence on China, Japan would be better off seeking American and European pharmaceutical firms as stable sources of vaccine supply, along with Japanese companies.
In conjunction with securing vaccines for domestic purposes, Japan should promote sharing them with developing countries. This is because countermeasures against this highly infectious virus cannot be successful if carried out by any single country alone. Even if Japan succeeds in containing the virus at home, the threat will continue, as long as infections continue abroad. It is essential to extend help to countries that would have difficulty procuring vaccines on their own.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s idea of creating a “vaccine patent pool” managed by international collaboration is one way to provide potent assistance to developing nations. Other ideas that have been floated include a proposed international public-private partnership to fund the purchase of vaccines for worldwide distribution. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada are in favor of this idea.
Why not have Japan join this initiative to promote wide-ranging international cooperation? This is where Japan’s leadership will be put to the test.
In the development of vaccines, all possible measures must also be taken to ensure safety. The state of COVID-19 infections differs region by region, and its symptoms and side effects can differ.
Meanwhile, a vaccine recently developed by the Russian government sidestepped the final stage of clinical trials and, deviating from accepted international standards, it was approved before its safety could be verified. Vaccines created in such a manner could deepen the COVID-19 turmoil and should not be allowed to interfere with the global collaborative effort.
(Click here to read this editorial in Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun