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Editorial: Japan vaccine rollout should prioritize safety, address fears

Screening of new coronavirus vaccines has begun in Japan, with American firm Pfizer Inc. applying to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare for special approval of the vaccine it developed.

    A number of countries have already green-lit use of Pfizer's vaccine, and vaccinations have started in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere. But the normal procedures have been truncated, leaving open the possibility of unexpected side effects. Tests in this country should go ahead with safety as their highest priority.

    Vaccinations produce antibodies in inoculated people to fight pathogens and prevent infection or reduce the severity of symptoms.

    The Pfizer vaccine is a new kind of mRNA vaccine that inserts a part of the virus's genetic information into the body. Although it can be produced in large quantities in a short amount of time, such vaccines have not been approved in Japan before. Each country's government has looked at the results of clinical trials and decided that its efficacy outweighs concerns over safety.

    The Japanese government has agreed to receive enough supplies of the vaccine for 60 million people. Another two types of vaccine are being procured at a scale that will allow everyone in the country to be inoculated.

    If approval is given, vaccinations could start by the spring of 2021. Alongside the approval process, preparations for infrastructure to deliver the shots are being expedited.

    Revisions to the Immunization Act were recently passed at an extraordinary Diet session. The cost of administering the vaccinations will fall upon the national government, and in the event that any vaccinations damage people's health, the government will also shoulder the compensation. The actual work of administering the vaccines will fall upon municipal governments and medical institutions.

    A precise framework that enables a smooth rollout, from the storage of the imported vaccinations to their distribution, is indispensable. Pfizer's vaccine requires storage at temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius, and will be delivered to Japan in units of around a thousand doses. How medical institutions with access to the vaccine will ensure they make complete use of the dosages, and how to manage venues where large numbers will come together to be vaccinated, will also become points of concern.

    In future, people will be expected to make efforts to be vaccinated -- a firmer approach than simply making vaccinations voluntary. The reason for this is that efforts to prevent the spread of infections are more effective when a large number of people are inoculated.

    However, in the U.S. and U.K., there have been reports of people experiencing strong allergic reactions after vaccination. If the safety of the shots cannot be completely guaranteed, we must respect the wishes of those who decide not to receive it.

    Four associations including the Japanese Society for Vaccinology are painstakingly gathering all vaccination records and reports of side effects after inoculation, and they are advising the government to construct an original system that can quickly employ safety measures.

    To try to ensure people understand the benefits and risks of the vaccine and are able to make informed decisions, we ask that the government look into implementing a system that can respond considerately to individual concerns and doubts.

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