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Editorial: Japan gov't plans to support future vaccine development need real commitment

The government has used the lessons learned from Japan's slow coronavirus vaccine development to draw up a new national strategy. As part of preparations for the potential emergence of a new infectious disease, it apparently aims to strengthen development and production infrastructure for domestically-produced vaccines.

    At the center of the plan is the establishment of a new organization that can tactically distribute the government's budget to promising new technology. The organization will be set up within a national corporation supporting research in medical fields.

    The government will also expand clinical trial systems that can guarantee safety and efficacy, as well as improve manufacturing bases.

    A conclusion is set to be drawn within the year regarding a quick approvals system during times of emergency.

    In response to the coronavirus, the government has relied on vaccine supplies from abroad, and as a result, inoculations have been slow to start. It's for this reason that the establishment of a government-led system is sought.

    But the issues facing it are myriad.

    The first consideration is how to obtain steady funds. It is difficult to recoup costs from vaccines as they take a long time to develop, and this factor has led companies to be reluctant to work on them. It is paramount that the government secures ample financial resources, and keeps investing in the initiative including support for start-ups.

    Securing personnel is also an urgent issue, and not one limited to vaccine research and development staff; there is also short supply of experts with knowledge on how to put these products to practical use and on moves among foreign manufacturers. A framework to develop talent must be devised.

    It's important, too, to change the present situation where basic research is often treated lightly. The messenger RNA vaccines introduced for the first time to combat the coronavirus are said to be the result of more than 30 years of research.

    Scientifically-backed investigations are to be sought in an emergency vaccine approval system. If development and approval processes are going to be expedited, then the systems governing collection and appraisal of information on side effects should also be improved.

    Consideration for the public's unease is also indispensable. The necessity of emergency approvals, and vaccine risks, should be communicated in an easily understandable way.

    After the 2009 swine flu pandemic, it was pointed out that the country needed to improve its framework for domestic vaccine development, but the government left this up to private firms. It seems this stance has brought about the vaccine failure we see today.

    The new strategy sets a goal of "formulating a world-class vaccine research and development base," but making it a reality is not so easy. To stop this becoming a pie in the sky idea, the government has a responsibility to buckle down and tackle the issues.

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