Tokyo’s Long View on the Coalition for Epidemic: The “100 Days Mission” and More

Prior to the occurrence of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting at Davos in January 2017. CEPI was initiated as a “billion-dollar project” in order to develop and prepare necessary vaccines prior to the outbreak of endemics or pandemics. Japan, Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and the Wellcome Trust have financially supported the activities of CEPI with a view to facilitating the development of vaccines and equal distribution to developing countries that are under the risk of new infectious diseases.

In essence, CEPI is an innovative global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organizations, to accelerate the development of vaccines against epidemic and pandemic threats. Specifically, CEPI has contributed to developing vaccines against infectious diseases, such as Ebola virus disease, Lassa virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, Nipah virus, Rift Valley Fever virus, and Chikungunya virus. The Japanese government has politically and economically supported CEPI, and Komeito as a ruling party has played an integral role in promoting financial contribution to CEPI.

Japan’s Contributions to CEPI

CEPI was founded based on an outcome document of the G7 Ise-Shima Summit in 2016 hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Abe government was dedicated to the hosting of the summit, and in the outcome document called the G7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health, the G7 countries proposed to “explore the feasibility of partnerships such as the Vaccine Innovation for Pandemic Preparedness Partnership to conduct a coordinated vaccine research and development”. In this context, the Japanese government supported the establishment of CEPI in 2017, and has consistently made political and financial contributions to CEPI.

At the time of CEPI’s inception, the Japanese government with main donor countries as well as other organizations pledged financial contributions to this global partnership for five years (Japan = $125 million, Norway = $120 million, Germany = $10.6 million, the BMGF = $100 million, the Wellcome Trust = $100 million). It was arranged that the International Financial Facility for Immunization (IFFIm) would issue so-called “vaccine bonds” on behalf of CEPI, because IFFIm had both the global experience and expertise with considerably credibility among international investors. In July 2019, it was announced that Japan’s Dai-ichi Life had become a major purchaser of CEPI’s vaccine bonds and IFFIm’s first institutional investor in Japan. In the face of the outbreak of coronavirus in China, CEPI announced it would fund vaccine development projects by the University of Queensland in Australia as well as Moderna on January 23, 2020.

As a result of the global coalition for pandemic preparedness in cooperation with CEPI, vaccines for coronavirus were developed 326 days after the detection of the disease. This was the fastest in the history of vaccine development, thanks to the technology of mRNA vaccines. Still, many people suffered and died of the coronavirus, and on March 10, 2021, CEPI set forth a “100 days mission” with a view to developing vaccines against new types of infectious diseases within 100 days after detection of the disease.

The 100-days mission as a five-year program is designed to strengthen pandemic preparedness and global connection between different institutions, such as the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in the United States, the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) in the European Union, and the Strategic Center of Biomedical Advanced Vaccine Research and Development for Preparedness and Response (SCARDA) in Japan, etc. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Japanese government has regarded CEPI as indispensable for the swift development of vaccines and necessary preparedness for future pandemics.

Role of Komeito

With regard to the 100 days mission, CEPI estimated in March 2021 that $3.5 billion would be necessary for pandemic preparedness activities and launched an investment case. Meanwhile, Komeito as a coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has played a significant role in securing Japan’s financial contribution to CEPI. To this end, Komeito has been actively engaged in support of CEPI as well as promotion of global health policy in Japan. On May 10, 2021, Seth Berkley as CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett had an online meeting with Natsuo Yamaguchi, Chief Representative of Komeito. Both Berkley and Hatchett commended Komeito for its role in facilitating Japan’s participation in the COVAX Facility that contributes to the equal access of vaccines in developing countries. Especially, Hatchett asked Komeito to encourage the Japanese government to make a further financial contribution to the development of vaccines.

Notably, BMGF Cofounder Bill Gates sent a letter of appreciation on June 9, 2021, to Komeito for the party’s activities to strengthen Japan’s commitment to global health, including CEPI. In the letter, Gates wrote “given Komeito’s remarkable efforts in championing CEPI’s work so far, the party’s role in reinforcing the collaboration between Japan and CEPI will become more important”. Furthermore, on February 15, 2022, the Global Health Promotion Committee of Komeito officially requested Shigeyuki Goto, the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW), to pledge additional $300 million to CEPI for the next five years. In response, Minister Goto responded that the MHLW would like to coordinate this decision-making process so that Japan could take international responsibility for pandemic response and global health.

On the G7 Agenda

On February 25, 2022, Prime Minister Kishida held a teleconference with CEPI CEO Hatchett, and said that the Japanese government would pledge additional $300 million to CEPI for the following five years, reaffirming that early development of and equitable access to vaccines are indispensable for strengthening global health security. A statement by the Kishida administration noted that “Japan will strengthen its cooperation with CEPI to respond to the current pandemic and prepare for future pandemics. The contribution to CEPI has great significance in addressing the common human issue of pandemics and can also help to further promote Japan’s own vaccine development and production. The government of Japan will continue to actively contribute to the development and production of vaccines for the international community”.

In response to the decision by the Japanese government, Hatchett commended Japan, saying that “The government of Japan has long recognized and supported the imperative that no one is safe unless everyone is safe. Japan paved the way for the launch of CEPI with the 2016 G7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health and was one of CEPI’s first funders. CEPI’s success owes a great deal to the support of the Japanese people. We thank Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for this vital investment in the protection of the people of Japan, and the world, against future pandemics”. It is noteworthy that Hatchett recalled the 2016 G7 Ise-Shima Summit for CEPI’s origins, and it contains implications for the 2023 G7 Hiroshima Summit to be hosted by the Kishida government.

Furthermore, Hatchett contributed an article to Komei Shimbun, published on January 14, 2023, encouraging the Japanese government to take leadership for global health at the G7 Hiroshima Summit. In particular, Hatchett wrote: “CEPI is enormously grateful that Japan has embraced the 100 days mission as a critical pillar of its G7 Global Health agenda, and I am honored to be contributing to this agenda as an advisor to the G7 Global Health Task Force”. In addition to the political support by the Japanese government, NEC Corporation has collaborated with CEPI by making use of its artificial intelligence (AI) biotechnology to develop innovative vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants as well as other beta coronaviruses.

As a host country of the G7 Hiroshima Summit, Japan is likely to highlight the importance of global health. Japan is also expected to make further contribution to pandemic preparedness and response to the future pandemics, and hence, its continuous financial support for CEPI would be critical in the post-COVID-19 world.