• Kyodo News

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Japan could start producing vaccines for the new H1N1 flu strain in early June, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe has indicated.

The minister said Tuesday he expects the swine flu strain for vaccine production to arrive from the United States between late May and early June, and that the ministry will decide what share of vaccine production to allocate to seasonal influenza and what share to the new type of flu in early June.

“We cannot make light of (measures against) seasonal influenza. After examining the characteristics of the new flu and the expected scope of infections, we will decide how many vaccines we will produce to fight the disease in early June,” Masuzoe told reporters.

Four vaccine makers in Japan have already started manufacturing vaccines against seasonal influenza, anticipating widespread infections in the coming winter. Since it takes several months to complete vaccine production, the allocation must be decided earlier.

Masuzoe’s remarks follow Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura’s suggestion to accelerate new-flu vaccine production in Japan. The top government spokesman said Monday he expects the “spread of a second wave of infections” in the fall.

As for the new-flu vaccine production, Masato Tashiro, chief of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases’ influenza virus research laboratory, said the institute is considering employing both traditional and new techniques to develop seed virus for the vaccine. The former technique utilizes chicken eggs while the latter uses reverse genetics technology that artificially manufactures a virus from a copy of the viral genome.

On Tuesday, the health ministry announced it has set up 793 “fever clinics,” with an eye to limiting contacts between new-flu patients and other patients to help prevent the spread of the disease while providing specialist care for flu patients across all 47 prefectures.

Tokyo leads all prefectures in the number of clinics, with 64, followed by Nagano Prefecture with 56, Ibaraki with 50 and Hokkaido with 43, according to the ministry.

By contrast, Nara has the fewest such facilities, at three, followed by Toyama’s four and five for Ishikawa, Saga and Okinawa.

The state has been asking municipalities to ensure such clinics are established in each government-designated area defined by transportation access and geographical conditions, in accordance with its guidelines.

The health minister also said the ministry will be flexible in deciding whether to shorten the 10-day isolation period for 48 passengers and crew members who were on the same Northwest Airlines flight that arrived last Friday as four Japanese who have contracted the new flu.

Masuzoe said the 48 people have been examined by doctors at a hotel near Narita, where they have been staying since Saturday. In the aircraft, they sat close to the four, whose infections were the first confirmed cases of the new flu in Japan.

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