– Japan should step up and play a role as a global facilitator for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, Dr Daisaku Higashi said at a recent Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP) study meeting.
The country should use the credibility developed in the post-Second World War era as a country with expertise in peacebuilding to ensure that developing countries are included in the vaccines’ rollout.
Higashi, a renowned commentator from Sophia University, warned that only an international effort could solve the problems caused by COVID-19
“Even if Japan succeeds in containing COVID-19 somehow, as long as the pandemic continues elsewhere in the world, there could always be a resurgence as soon as our border is opened to large numbers of foreign visitors,” he said. “The global economy overall will shrink if the global pandemic were to persist, dealing a major blow to corporate profitability and employment in Japan.”
“As close to half of Japan’s trading partners are developing countries, it is in Japan’s interest to contain the disease globally. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is a global threat that no one country can fend it off on its own – it is a human security issue,” Higashi said.
His comments are particularly pertinent because in November Pfizer and a German company, BioNTech, presented presenting preliminary data indicating that their coronavirus vaccine was over 90 percent effective. A week later Moderna reported similar findings that its vaccine was 94.5 percent effective.
Higashi said all countries should be encouraged to join COVAX – a facility for the pooled procurement of safe vaccines.
COVAX which operates under the auspicious of ACT Accelerator, which aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
Higashi welcomed the Government of Japan’s decision to join the facilities and pledge as much as about $500 million in advance market contributions that will allow developing countries to have access to the vaccines under the COVAX Facility.
“This is truly the moment when Japan should play its role as a “global facilitator” to promote dialogue for the development of global solutions for COVID-19 with Japan as the host country and with ideas coming from participating member states, international organisations, experts, and NGOs,” he said.
Japan should use its influence to persuade the United States, China, and Russia, which are not participating in COVAX to join, Higashi said.
International health and politics expert, Dr Kayo Takuma of Tokyo Metropolitan University, addressed the challenges of global health cooperation that were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Takuma said while several other global health issues had resulted in international cooperation in the fields of health9 and infection control, this has floundered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Serious challenges emerged because the spread of the coronavirus had broad implications not only on health but also on the global economy and growing uncertainty brought about by poverty.
This created “greater room, for good or ill, for the politicization of the pandemic,” Takuma said.
“The U.S.-China cooperation against SARS, World Health Organisation (WHO)-U.S. cooperation against H1N1 influenza, and U.S. leadership against AIDS and Ebola are some examples of good practices in international cooperation in the field of health, particularly infection control,” he said.
However, Trump against the backdrop of U.S.-China tensions criticised WHO for being China-centric and not fulfilling its basic responsibilities and withdrew from the WHO.
While President-elect Joe Biden has said he would return to the WHO, the continued concern is that the international health body could remain underfunded and in need of reform.
“As the history of the U.S. initiative in founding WHO and its leadership in global health shows, the loss from the U.S. withdrawal will be felt not only in funding. There is also a wide range of other areas (that will be affected), including human talent, medicines, and the U.S.’s standing in the world,” Takuma said. He reminded the audience that U.S. contributions accounted for 12% of WHO’s budget.
He said China played an increasing role in its promotion of global health as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. However, the realities are that “even though China is promoting its vaccine and mask diplomacy, it is not near replacing the U.S. either in terms of funding or ability to supply drugs, as evidenced by lack of trust in the quality of China’s vaccines and masks.”
There were also other calls for WHO reform – with Germany and France wishing to strengthen WHO’s authority in initial responses to health crises.
Takuma, like Higashi, called for Japan to actively promote in COVAX and other frameworks for fair distribution of vaccines around the world.
“The country could strengthen cooperation with the U.S. and China as Japan has good relations with both countries and focusing on cooperation with Asian countries through such initiatives as ASEAN Center for Infectious Diseases,” he concluded.