COVID-19, Ebola, SARS on list of infectious diseases earmarked for rapid vaccine development

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

Diseases including COVID-19, Ebola, and smallpox have been included on a tentative government list of infectious diseases earmarked for prioritized research and development of vaccines and treatments.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry aims to establish a system to secure a sufficient supply of drugs for diseases that could pose a threat to the nation’s crisis management.

The government established a command center for vaccine development in March called the Strategic Center of Biomedical Advanced Vaccine Research and Development for Preparedness and Response, which will provide financial support to companies and research institutes that are developing vaccines for the infectious diseases on the list.

A council of the health ministry has selected priority infectious diseases based on two factors: “public health impact,” such as mortality rate, risk of repeat infection and burden on the medical system; and “strategic perspective,” such as accessibility of drugs and whether or not a virus has been used as a biological weapon.

The diseases on the list are being classified into five groups. No diseases have yet been categorized in the most severe level, Group X, which is likely to comprise diseases that would have a large social impact but for which no outbreak is anticipated.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Group A, the second-highest level, covers infectious diseases that have the potential to become a pandemic and ones that have been eradicated, such as smallpox. Group B covers diseases that regularly or unexpectedly cause epidemics, such as COVID-19, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and Ebola virus disease.

Some diseases caused by drug-resistant bacteria will be categorized in Group C, while malaria and rabies, which rarely break out, will be categorized in Group D.

The council is yet to finalize the details of the list.

Securing a stable supply of vaccines is a challenge, as seen in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic during which Japan has had to rely on imports due to delays in domestic development.