TOMODACHI Alumni Join the 23rd Business Advisory Board Meeting Featuring Dr. Kenji Shibuya to Discuss Global COVID-19 Response
On April 12, 2021, four TOMODACHI Alumni from different programs were invited to attend the online 23rd U.S.-Japan Council Business Advisory Board (BAB) Meeting. The event featured Dr. Kenji Shibuya (Professor and Director, University Institute for Population Health, King’s College London) as the keynote speaker. Over 40 industry leaders from diverse fields gathered to listen to his speech, titled “Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons from Japan and Abroad,” marking the thirteenth time TOMODACHI Alumni were invited to join business executives as representatives of the future of U.S.-Japan leadership.
Dr. Shibuya opened his keynote address by carefully assessing the COVID-19 responses in the United Kingdom and in Japan, drawing comparisons between other countries including the United States. Using comparative analyses of various research findings and scientific publications pertaining to COVID-19, Dr. Shibuya pointed out that Japan relied heavily on the public’s efforts to break transmission chains and prevent an explosive outbreak during the early stages of the pandemic. He suggested that it is time for Japan to commit to mass COVID testing, which leads to early detection and isolation of the source of infection; he asserted that mass testing is crucial to suppressing the asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19. He also emphasized the importance of smoother vaccine dissemination to increase host immunity despite the structural and historical reasons for Japan’s slow rollout. Dr. Shibuya stated that mass testing and vaccinations have both been proven effective in other countries, including the United Kingdom.
During the Q & A and networking session following the talk, Takashi Yoshida, a 2018 alumnus of the TOMODACHI Sumitomo Corporation Scholarship Program asked Dr. Shibuya if there was a possibility that COVID-19 may become a seasonal disease similar to the flu. Dr. Shibuya responded that it is possible for the virus to become endemic if enough people are vaccinated to contain the ongoing pandemic. He also warned the audience that COVID-19 can still be more contagious and cause more serious symptoms in comparison to the flu. He concluded that as a result, COVID-19 will continue to have a significant impact on society.
Reflecting on her experience, Yuka Nakamura, an alumna of the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program, commented “I was interested in hearing from Dr. Shibuya since I work in the pharmaceutical industry. I will share what I learned today with my colleagues.”
The meeting concluded with a lively discussion between Dr. Shibuya and the audience on various topics such as shortfalls in the ongoing responses and the exit strategy, the independence of the scientific community, vaccine safety and hesitancy, and the pharmaceutical industry in Japan.