Tokyo Olympics: The Latest on Athlete Vaccinations and What Experts Say Should be the Focus

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The Olympic Rings in Tokyo. Photo Courtesy: Tokyo 2020

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As COVID-19 vaccines become more available, the discussion of distribution has turned to Olympic athletes preparing for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

In several countries, Olympic athletes have begun to receive vaccines, but experts are warning not to equate vaccines with the chance of hosting the games threatened again by the pandemic.

According to the Japan Times, experts believe organizers should prepare for the Tokyo Olympics regardless of the vaccine distribution, and instead make sure that they have enough polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to conduct on athletes, coaches and staff on a daily basis leading up to and during the games.

While vaccine distribution has begun in several countries, the Times reports that is expected to begin in Japan later in the month.

The question also becomes: Where should Olympic athletes be on the hierarchy of vaccinations?

There is certainly a strong case to have them high on the list because of what the Olympics can symbolize to the world, but where does that put them when there are so many elderly and front-line workers around the world still not vaccinated?

Recent reports showed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to get all Olympic-bound athletes vaccinated. Yet a couple of days later, the WHO said athletes shouldn’t expect to jump to the front of the line. But the IOC also recommended athletes, officials and coaches be vaccinated.

Tetsuo Nakayama, a project professor at Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences and director of the Japanese Society of Clinical Virology, told the Japan Times it wouldn’t be ideal to prepare for the games under the assumption vaccines will be available for athletes.

“It’s only a problem for those who are associated with the Olympics,” Nakayama told The Japan Times in a Zoom call last week. “And when it comes down to the Olympics, it’s not just the athletes who are participating but others — like people who support the athletes, and people working at the Athletes Village. So I think it’s strange to think of hosting the Olympics assuming there would be vaccinations (for all those people).”

Read the full Japan Times report on the Tokyo Olympics here.