As Japan became the last of the G-7 nations to roll out vaccines by Pfizer (PFE) - Get Pfizer Inc. Report and BioNTech (BNTX) - Get BioNTech SE Sponsored ADR Report last week, TheStreet spoke with one of the nation's top virologists about the shot. Hidekazu Nishimura, who heads the Virus Research Center at Sendai Medical Center, north of Tokyo, discussed his view on the vaccines, their potential role in securing the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and whether he plans to get the jab.
Following is an edited version of the exchange, which was conducted by email.
TheStreet: The vaccine rollout is beginning in Japan and was officially delayed because the nation wanted its own clinical trials. What are some advantages do you think Japan had in waiting to start the rollout after other countries?
Nishimura: We could have a moratorium period before the decision making. We could have collected information on the effectiveness and occurrence of adverse events. But it was not delayed intentionally. It was a result of poor preparedness. It is sour grapes.
TheStreet: Do you worry that many Japanese might not want to take the new vaccines?
Nishimura: No. For now, I guess that many Japanese people will want to get the shot because of the governmental campaign using media such as TV. What does “many” mean? Half the population of Japan, for example, is “many” for me. But the vaccine coverage would depend on the extent of the epidemic in Japan from now. If the epidemic wanes with today’s pace, the vaccine coverage will be down, too.
TheStreet: So far the vaccine rollout has been a country by country effort. Do you worry that with the slow rollout and uneven rollout globally, there's more risk of new variants that could further elude vaccines?
Nishimura: It may be possible that some true variants that incapacitate the vaccine emerge, but it would not be a result from the slow and uneven rollout.
TheStreet: Now that the shots are available in Japan, do you think it's reasonable to try to host the Olympics this year?
Nishimura: It is possible, if the pandemic disappears not only from Japan, but also from all over the world, but it is not realistic. The infection will smolder at least during this year, especially in the spring and summer. The government can persist on the games this year for economic (reasons). It is possible, but many people doubt it. We should imagine the nightmare that the epidemic reignites after the games, and if we cannot prepare against it enough by establishing a new effective system to control the epidemic perfectly, we should not expect the profit by the games, I think.
TheStreet: Given the safety profile of the Pfizer vaccine, do you feel comfortable taking it?
Nishimura: I recommend people take the vaccine, because I think it's better in general for people and I will take it for myself, because I recommend it. However, to tell the truth, I feel a little uneasy. ... I do not worry about the adverse effects in the short period after the vaccination, but no one knows for now the effect that may occur far later. But I decide I will take the vaccination. ... I feel a little blue for my decision, without certainty on the novel vaccine we have not fully experienced yet -- not perfectly happy, as we can see many American people are showing in media reports. Everyone should be exposed to stress in decision making in front of pros and cons without certainty.