The history of the bitter vaccine in Japan creates an obstacle in the fight against COVID-19

With agreements to provide more coronavirus vaccines than it needs and legislation to distribute them for free, Japan appears to have its inoculation plans. However, a tense public history of vaccines and a cautious approval process worries them as soon as the country can return to normal.

Japan has one of the lowest vaccine confidence rates in the world, according to a Lancet study, which found that less than 30% of people agreed that vaccines are safe, important and effective compared to at least 50%. among Americans. A recent NHK survey found that 36% said they did not want to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The government is now facing a difficult balancing act: trying to move quickly to approve the blows to restore the economy to full health, while avoiding creating the impression of a hasty job – which could help disable a public already skeptical of being inoculated.

“Japan is very cautious about vaccines, because historically there have been problems with potential side effects,” said Haruka Sakamoto, a public health researcher at the University of Tokyo. “The government has been involved in several lawsuits related to this issue, which adds to their deep caution. “

Prudent timeline

The skeptical attitude is ahead of the more recent Western “anti-vax” sentiment that has thrived on social media, with roots instead of vaccine-related events and legal decisions that have encouraged the government to take a passive stance on vaccination.

And, ironically, Japan’s relative success in managing the pandemic means that the urgent launch of the shooting is less of a priority. The country has avoided a second state of emergency, even though cases have risen to record levels.

As a result, Japan’s launch is slower than some other nations, which has led to frustration among those who rely on vaccines to eradicate the virus. Only Pfizer Inc. has so far called for local approval of its coronavirus shot, even though the United Kingdom and the United States have both given more than half a million doses, especially to the elderly and health workers.

Local media reported that the vaccines will be launched in Japan in late February, when the government aims to inoculate about 10,000 front-line health workers. The ministry is then preparing to vaccinate the general medical staff, after which it will be gradually administered to the wider population. Japan has not said when it intends to complete its vaccination program.

Tokyo's Ginza shopping district.  Japan's skeptical attitude towards vaccines is more recent than the more recent Western one
Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district. Japan’s skeptical attitude toward vaccines precedes the more recent Western “anti-vax” sentiment that has thrived on social media. | A?

While personalities such as US Vice President Mike Pence and President-elect Joe Biden got the dose, and leaders such as Indonesian President Joko Widodo volunteered to receive firsts in their countries, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would wait his turn.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said on Friday that he had asked the relevant bodies to give priority to reviewing Pfizer’s application, but did not give a timetable for approval. A health ministry spokesman also declined to comment on the reported schedule.

MMR problems

The modern dissatisfaction with the vaccine in Japan has its roots in an inoculation of measles, mumps and rubella, which some suspected would lead to higher rates of aseptic meningitis in the early 1990s. Although no definitive link has been established, the shootings have been discontinued and so far Japan does not recommend a combined MMR shooting.

Another catalyst was a 1992 ruling that not only held the government responsible for any vaccine-related adverse reactions, but also stipulated that suspected adverse reactions would be considered adverse events, said Tetsuo Nakayama, a professor at the Kitasato Institute. for Life Sciences whose research focuses on vaccines. Two years later, the government revised a vaccination law, eliminating mandatory vaccinations.

These events helped send a message that inoculations should be taken at their own risk and diluted awareness of vaccination as a greater public benefit, said Mikihito Tanaka, a professor at Waseda University who specializes in scientific communication.

“Japan has a strong health insurance system and an affordable medical system,” he said. “Compared to places like the US, this makes the incentive to bet on health with a new vaccine very low.”

Manipulation of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine also appears in the public memory. After media coverage of the allegations, the vaccine’s side effects include severe headaches and seizures, and in 2013 the health ministry withdrew its recommendation for a shot, which proved safe and effective in preventing cervical cancer. Although it remained available on demand, the vaccination rate has fallen from 70% to less than 1% today. According to a study, this could have led to another 5,700 deaths.

“Wide shows”

Japanese drug approvals require clinical trials involving Japanese, but an emergency authorization based on data from other countries is allowed. The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic vaccines received emergency approval after a review of about three months.

However, the government will need to carefully manage how the public perceives a rapid approval process. The economic impact of the pandemic and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics could lead to faster approval, but it could also raise suspicion as to whether the shootings have been carefully checked.

How the public will perceive some typical side effects is also worrying, Nakayama said. Initial data from vaccines show local pain in 80 percent of cases and fatigue and headaches up to 50 percent, but “there has never been a vaccine in Japan that has caused reactions at these levels,” he said. that eventually, public opinion will decide the extent of implementation.

Tanaka said he is particularly concerned about the influence of various news programs, which serve as both news and entertainment and are extremely influential in shaping public opinion, which will ultimately decide the extent of the launch.

“The final decision on whether or not to receive the vaccine will be made by the people,” Health Minister Tamura said on Friday.

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