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Editorial: Japan needs strategy for domestic vaccines as COVID-19 immunization lags

One year has passed since the Japanese government declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak for the first time. However, an end to the spread of infections in Japan remains nowhere in sight, and now there are concerns about a "fourth wave" of the outbreak as Osaka is seeing a spike in the number of new cases.

    Vaccination is said to be the trump card in tackling the outbreak, and Japan will soon start administering vaccines to senior residents. But the government has yet to present a clear vision on its vaccination plan for all citizens. This is because Japan relies on imports when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine supplies.

    Globally, the coronavirus immunization rate tends to be higher in countries where vaccine makers are based. So far, less than 1% of people in Japan have been vaccinated. While Japanese firms have been working on developing their own coronavirus vaccine, they are one lap behind.

    Vaccines are essential to fight a pandemic. Amid the intensifying battle over vaccines among countries, it's not comforting to know that Japan needs to rely on other nations. The Japanese government needs to map out a mid- and long-term strategic plan to support domestic vaccine development.

    During a pandemic caused by a new strain of influenza in 2009, Japan had delayed responses in making and supplying domestic vaccines. The following year, the government's expert panel compiled a report demanding that the central government "support vaccine manufacturers and increase domestic production capacity to secure enough doses for all citizens as quickly as possible."

    Even after this, however, the circumstances in which the government left the matter in the hands of manufacturers remained unchanged, and no concrete national strategies have since been presented.

    Meanwhile, overseas research and development efforts advanced as government and private sectors worked together. The accumulation of such efforts was put to use when developing coronavirus vaccines and led to a swift move to put the products into practical use.

    As globalization advances, risks of the spread of infectious diseases increase year after year. The Japanese government should place vaccine development as a central policy and create an environment where it continues to support research and production for years to come.

    The historical background in which side effects of vaccines became a major social issue in Japan has hindered the country in developing a coronavirus vaccine, and the public's distrust or concern when it comes to immunization is deep-rooted. The national government is urged to send messages sincerely on the importance of vaccination as a matter of public health as well as its risks.

    It's crucial for the government to secure a supply of coronavirus vaccines, carry out vaccinations steadily and release information on side effects and other facts. After doing this, the Japanese government must use the lessons learned and embark on building up a system to provide domestic vaccines in a safe and stable manner.

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