Infectious diseases expert Kazuhiro Tateda has urged people in Japan not to let their guard down against the novel coronavirus as government tests have revealed that most individuals lack antibodies and are at risk of contracting the virus in a second wave of infections.
The health ministry’s antibody tests for the coronavirus conducted earlier this month suggested a 0.1 percent infection rate in Tokyo, 0.17 percent in Osaka Prefecture and 0.03 percent in Miyagi Prefecture.
“If the infection had spread without being detected, the rates would have been higher,” said Tateda, head of the Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases and Toho University professor.
While explaining the results show that the first wave of infections was contained to a certain degree, Tateda called for antibody testing to be conducted periodically to grasp the spread of the virus, saying, “While we managed to survive the first wave, many people remain vulnerable to infection.”
“We must not ease our measures (against the virus),” he said.
The presence of antibodies indicates individuals have been infected with the virus and may not be reinfected.
But as it remains unclear whether antibodies for the coronavirus provide immunity to reinfection, the government is planning to continue analysis at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
There is also the issue of the precision of antibody testing. Some clinics and companies have introduced antibody tests independently, but their results are not always accurate even if people test positive.
To enhance the credibility of its test results, the health ministry used a method that can measure the level of antibodies, which was approved in the United States as an emergency step.
The ministry survey was conducted between June 1 and 7, with samples collected from about 8,000 people ages 20 and above in the three regions.
The rate of individuals with antibodies was about three to nine times higher than the rate of confirmed infections to the population, which stood at 0.038 percent in Tokyo, 0.02 percent in Osaka Prefecture, and 0.004 percent in Miyagi Prefecture.
The discrepancy indicates a large number of infections have gone undetected with people either recovering without being tested or showing no symptoms.
Meanwhile, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said Wednesday a clinical test of a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus developed by medical startup AnGes Inc. will start June 30 in Osaka, and it is envisioned it will be rolled out next year.
“I think it will be the first clinical test (of a coronavirus vaccine) on humans in Japan,” Yoshimura told a news conference, adding that the test will initially target 20 to 30 medical workers at Osaka City University Hospital and expand to hundreds by October.
The prefectural and municipal governments of Osaka, which operate universities and hospitals, and AnGes, a startup set up by an Osaka University professor, agreed in April to cooperate on research and development of treatment drugs and vaccines for the coronavirus.
Yoshimura said it is possible to produce the DNA vaccine for 200,000 people by the end of this year, and they aim to apply for state approval between spring and fall of next year if the test proves its effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 infections.
The envisioned vaccine will inject a genetically engineered circular DNA into the body, which is expected to stimulate the immune system and make antibodies against the coronavirus.
Animal testing of the vaccine has proven its safety, Yoshimura said.
Around 125 vaccines are currently under development globally, including 10 undergoing human tests as of May 27, according to the World Health Organization.
As the race intensifies, U.S. biotechnology company Moderna Inc., British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca PLC and China’s CanSino Biologics Inc. are among those whose vaccine candidates are already in clinical trials.
But given the expected surge in demand, the government is pushing for a homegrown vaccine, as foreign ones may be limited in supply and not be available for people in Japan.
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