Olympics|I.O.C. Offers Vaccine to All Tokyo Games Participants
Olympic officials announced deals to provide vaccine doses to visitors before they travel to Japan, the latest effort to ease the fears of a skeptical Japanese public.
May 6, 2021, 8:18 a.m. ET
The International Olympic Committee said Thursday that it had struck deals with two companies for coronavirus vaccine doses that will allow a significant proportion of athletes and officials traveling to the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer the opportunity to be vaccinated before they arrive in Japan.
The committee announced the agreements with the companies, Pfizer and BioNTech, to distribute donated doses of the vaccine to Olympic and Paralympic Games participants in their home countries, where they would be administered by local officials and through domestic vaccination programs.
The effort is the latest attempt by Olympic officials and Japanese organizers to assuage the concerns of a skeptical Japanese public that has consistently told pollsters that it does not want the Games to take place during the pandemic. Only about 1 percent of the Japanese public is currently vaccinated and several areas, including Tokyo, are under restrictions that have closed restaurants, bars and stores.
Despite the new program, and an earlier announcement that the I.O.C. would buy doses of a Chinese vaccine and distribute them, there is still no requirement that athletes, coaches, officials or others attending the Games must be vaccinated before coming to Japan.
Skepticism about the Games remains high among the Japanese public, and Olympic officials pointedly noted in their announcement that the new program was an effort to address their concerns. The I.O.C.’s news release said the vaccination plan was developed “not only to contribute to the safe environment of the Games, but also out of respect for the residents of Japan.”
“This donation of the vaccine is another tool in our toolbox of measures to help make the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 safe and secure for all participants, and to show solidarity with our gracious Japanese hosts,” the I.O.C. president Thomas Bach said in a statement.
In March, China had agreed to provide vaccines for Olympic participants. But China’s vaccines are still not approved in many countries, and several — including Japan — said they would not accept the offer.
Bach acknowledged that accepting the vaccine was still voluntary, even as he urged competitors to take part. “We are inviting the athletes and participating delegations of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games to lead by example and accept the vaccine where and when possible,” he said.
Ugur Erdener, the chairman of the I.O.C.’s Medical and Scientific Commission, stressed the same point. “We see the importance of vaccination all around the world,” he said. “We encourage the athletes and Games participants to take the vaccine whenever possible. Vaccination is an important tool to protect not only themselves, but also their communities.”