Vaccination and Tokyo 2020

What we know so far and the recent developments surrounding vaccination at The Tokyo 2020 Games

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Late last year when various vaccines for the novel coronavirus began to become an immediate reality, there were some rumblings regarding Tokyo 2020 and what organizers would do. While governments were scrambling to secure their country’s own supplies of the Pfizer, AstraZenica and Moderna vaccines, there were some rumours of the potential that the International Olympic Committee would be vaccinating the games. The question being posed was, “Could the game’s organizers somehow secure enough vaccines for everyone involved and save the games?”

While at a distance and in retrospect, this proposal seems somewhat farfetched, at the times it was a very real question. In fact even The Japan Times reported in late January that the “IOC plans to vaccinate every Olympic athlete to save Tokyo Games,” or so headline read. This could have very well been true at the time, but we now that this is no longer on the table, at least not to that extent necessarily.

The decision to not make a vaccine mandatory makes sense for a variety of reasons. Firstly it being somewhat immoral to prioritize athletes in peak physical condition over more at risk groups, and the conundrum of forcing participants into injecting something into their own bodies that they may not want. This all just screams a public relations nightmare at the very least. While Thomas Bach had stated prior to the aforementioned report that the vaccine would not be mandatory for the games, it wasn’t until the first version of “The Playbook”, was released in February that this seemed to be set in stone.

While the vaccine is not an official requirement for participation in the upcoming games, recent news has suggested that more and more teams may decide to vaccinate their athletes before traveling abroad. As of now, some of the teams that have committed to vaccinating their athletes are: South Korea, Australia, Lithuania and Canada. While for some countries this seems to really be minimal in consequence for their overall vaccination efforts, it simply isn’t an option for every national team who will be competing.

This reality of certain countries not having the means to vaccinate their athletes who will compete in Tokyo 2020, doesn’t however ultimately mean they won’t receive one prior to the games however. Recent news just broke on May 6th that Pfizer and BioNTech will be donating vaccines to not just competing athletes but officials as well. Vaccines will start to be sent out this month, so that a second dose can be administered before the beginning of the games on July 23rd. Paralympic athletes and administrators are also set to receive shots before coming to Japan as well.

This widespread vaccination of the games, coupled with the intense limited restrictions of athletes which requires them to essential leave as soon as their event is over, will hopefully quell the anti-game sentiments in Japan. The IOC and IPC continue to state their full fledged support of the games moving forward, and whispers of cancellation this time around are much fewer. Time will tell how effectively this process will ultimately be, but it is a step in the right direction to assure the continuation of the games.

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A writer living in Japan. Creating articles about the 2020 Tokyo Games. A regular contributor to Junkture Magazine.