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Why Only University Students?

Japanese Chinese

As COVID-19 vaccination proceeds at a quick pace, I think nearly everyone is feeling a mixture of concern and hope about when we will be free from this COVID-19 epidemic. Even among my friends and acquaintances, I sense different degrees of apprehension and hope regarding COVID-19.

As a physician, perhaps because I often come across COVID-19 research results and information on the effect of vaccines, in particular, I have a relatively optimistic view. As for vaccine effectiveness, after the second dose of the vaccine, the infection rate drops dramatically; in fact, the percentage of "breakthrough" infections, the percentage of COVID-19 infections occurring in people who are vaccinated, is 0.01%. Furthermore, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S., those who were not fully vaccinated (had not been vaccinated or received only one dose) accounted for 99% of the deaths due to COVID-19 infection in the U.S. in May 2021, and I found this effectiveness very reassuring.

Compared to other variants, there are a number of concerns regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine for the Delta variant first identified in India, including the fact that its effectiveness is a bit lower and the duration of the vaccine effect has not been verified. Nevertheless, it is possible to feel rather satisfied regarding the medical countermeasures taken against COVID-19. What worries me are the totally groundless rumors about the vaccine that are spreading through SNS and other channels. They include stories about how the vaccine will make you sterile or cause genetic mutation. What I can't understand is the motive of people who spread such rumors. Do they really believe them or do they just enjoy watching how people react and are satisfied by attracting attention?

There are also concerns about the increase in infections in Israel and the U.K. where vaccination has been proceeding at a quick pace. Even in the UK, those who have been fully vaccinated (received two doses) only account for 48% of the population (as of June 30), which means that nearly half are still at risk of infection. The infections are increasing because nearly half of the population is still at risk of infection, and this cannot be interpreted to mean that the vaccine is not effective. There are different degrees of concern regarding COVID-19 infection and they can be understood as widely varying according to age, area of residence, and now the present state of vaccination, but I have some strong doubts about the circumstances at some universities in Japan that I heard about.

I am referring to the extreme differences in the response to and handling of COVID-19 infection at each university. At one national university located in a prefecture, when a cluster outbreak occurred at an off-campus gathering and several students (fewer than 10) were infected, the university restricted students from entering the campus. Furthermore, other strict restrictions are also in place. For example, not only are visitors from regions with high infection numbers, for example, Tokyo, not allowed, but university faculty and staff are also prohibited from visiting such areas. If a visit is absolutely necessary, a 14-day self-quarantine is required upon return, which is the same restriction applied to those returning from abroad.

I hear that at another university, faculty members are requested not to travel outside the prefecture. If a student becomes infected, his/her teacher is expected to "apologize" at a school meeting, and according to those involved, this leads to this sort of negative, defensive self-regulation. The two universities are located in regions with low COVID-19 infection rates, and for this reason, we can also say that they are very careful and vigilant about infection, and students have to endure what is now the second year of online classes. Compared to the Tokyo area and regions with the higher number of infections, students who are obliged to exercise this kind of self-restraint should have a lower risk of spreading the infection on campus and a statistically lower risk of infection.

On the other hand, at universities in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the number of infections among students is high and the risk of infection on campus is no doubt higher than at the above university. However, I have found that most universities in the Tokyo area are conducting classes both in-person and online. One well-known private university reports on its website that COVID-19 infections among students exceed 300, and it is now conducting in-person classes in tandem with measures to prevent infection. Although there are fewer infections among elementary and junior high school students than university students in Japan, nearly all elementary and junior high schools are recently conducting in-person classes while taking the latest measures to prevent infection, and in contrast, the regional differences are slight.

In other words, the situation is this. While universities in regions with a low number of reported infections even prohibit entry to the campus, universities with a high number of infections are conducting in-person classes. Couldn't we say that students who are not given the opportunity to have in-person classes even though their situation is statistically safer are victims of an excessive effort to deal with COVID-19? Why do only some university students have to accept this sort of disadvantage? I sympathize with them.

sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.