SciCheck Digest

More than 70% of Japan’s population has received the COVID-19 vaccines, and the government is moving ahead with a booster shot in December. But a conservative radio host in the U.S. falsely claimed, “Japan drops vax rollout, goes to Ivermectin.” Japan hasn’t stopped its vaccine program and hasn’t approved ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment.

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Japan has made progress in the fight against COVID-19, with more than 70% of the country’s population now vaccinated. Experts say that high vaccination rate, along with the widespread use of masks, is likely behind Japan’s success at getting COVID-19 rates down. Japan reported just 86 daily cases nationwide as of Nov. 1, the lowest since last June and down from more than 20,000 in mid-August.

But conservative radio host Hal Turner falsely reported on his website on Oct. 27 that Japan ended its COVID-19 vaccine program and has instead been treating cases with ivermectin, an antiparasitic medication. Turner’s headline, which was shared on social media posts, falsely claimed, “Japan drops vax rollout, goes to Ivermectin.”

The article on Turner’s website said Japan pulled the Moderna vaccine after finding metal contamination, then switched from vaccines to ivermectin. The post contains links to press reports, none of which back up the claim that the country has ended its vaccination program or switched to ivermectin. One article, from the Associated Press, quotes a virology expert as saying Japan’s success is due in part to the vaccines.

Japan has mainly relied on the mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer, which require two shots, administered a few weeks apart, for full vaccination against COVID-19. In August, Japan also began using the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being administered in two shots, eight weeks apart. A Japanese health ministry panel approved a plan in October to make a booster shot available to everyone who has received two vaccine shots, eight months after the second shot.

So, rather than ending its COVID-19 vaccination program, the Japanese government has said it plans to continue providing vaccines, including the booster shot as soon as December, according to NHK World Japan.

Japan did have an issue with the manufacturing process of the Moderna vaccine. In late August, Moderna and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. suspended and later recalled three lots of the Moderna vaccine that contained about 1.6 million doses after stainless steel contaminants were found in some vials.

Takeda said the problem was caused by “incorrect assembly and was due to human error specific to visually misjudging the required 1mm gap between the star-wheel and the stopper” of machinery that put the tops on vaccine vials, according to an Oct. 1 article by Reuters. Japan continued to administer vaccine doses that were unaffected by the manufacturing issue.

Never approved

Contrary to Turner’s claim, ivermectin is not on a list of pharmaceuticals approved to treat COVID-19 in Japan.

“Ivermectin is not endorsed by the Japanese government,” Kosuke Yasukawa, who is a physician at Medstar Washington Hospital Center and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine, told us in an email.

Haruo Ozaki, chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, had recommended the use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19 patients at Feb. 9 press conference, “which was criticized by many physicians in the U.S.,” said Yasukawa, an infectious disease specialist who received his medical degree at Keio University in Tokyo.

Ozaki is not a government official, and the Tokyo Medical Association is a professional organization that doesn’t make policy.

“I believe basic precautions like masks [and] social distancing, along with vaccination, helped reduce infections in Japan,” Yasukawa said.

The World Health Organization said in March that evidence about the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 was “inconclusive.”

The WHO recommends that ivermectin “continue to be used for its intended purposes,” the organization said in an email to FactCheck.org. “Until more data is available, WHO recommends that the drug only be used to treat COVID-19 within clinical trials,” regardless of disease severity.

Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says “currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19.” (For more on ivermectin, see SciCheck’s article “Ongoing Clinical Trials Will Decide Whether (or Not) Ivermectin Is Safe, Effective for COVID-19.”)

Officials from the Japanese Embassy in Washington didn’t return emails seeking comment.

We tried to reach Hal Turner for evidence supporting his claims, but we didn’t hear back.

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