Covid-19 vaccine progress gives Tokyo Olympics a tailwind3 min read . Updated: 20 Nov 2020, 10:54 AM IST
- Major hurdles remain, but Games’ organizers prepare for athletes to get shots
Breakthroughs in Covid-19 vaccine trials are giving a boost to the organizers of next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, who are looking into vaccine suppliers and planning to encourage athletes to get their shots.
Still, local organizers remain publicly cautious about whether enough vaccines will be available in time, and they are leaving room for the Games to proceed regardless. If vaccines are in short supply, it would be hard to justify prioritizing young athletes with low risk of serious illness.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt voiced the optimistic scenario this week. “Our expectation is that there will be vaccines for all athletes from all nations and all officials from all nations, and they’ll be well and truly ready long in advance of the Olympic Games," he said.
Mr. Hunt said he had spoken with the International Olympic Committee and it was working “to secure vaccines for all athletes and officials who would be attending from around the world." A spokesman for Mr. Hunt said he spoke to the head of the committee’s preparatory team for the Tokyo Olympics, John Coates, who is Australian.
Publicly, IOC officials haven’t gone that far. Mr. Coates said on Wednesday the IOC was closely monitoring vaccine development. “It’s in our interest to make sure if a vaccine is available, we make it available to athletes and that reduces the potential problem we have," Mr. Coates said.
He and other officials haven’t said whether the IOC or national Olympic groups would directly acquire and distribute vaccines for athletes and officials or merely help governments and other groups in charge of distribution.
Mr. Coates suggested the IOC could help pay for vaccines for athletes, especially those from poorer countries.
The Olympics were originally scheduled to take place in July and August of this year. In March, the Games were pushed back a year because of the pandemic, and they are now set to start July 23, 2021.
Since the delay was announced, officials have delivered mixed messages about whether a vaccine was a precondition for the Games.
Before he stepped down in September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested it was. But the local organizing committee said it was “discussing with relevant parties how the Games can be held even in the absence of a Covid vaccine." Local officials have said they have other ways to ensure the Games’ safety.
U.S. Olympic officials and health experts are also skeptical that a vaccine plan can be implemented in time.
Even if effective vaccines can be secured quickly, other questions must be answered, such as who would pay for them, whether officials and spectators would also be vaccinated, and what to do about athletes who don’t want to be vaccinated. Some 11,000 athletes are expected to come to Tokyo, plus tens of thousands of Olympic officials, media, coaches and other personnel.
IOC President Thomas Bach, visiting Tokyo this week for the first time since the Olympics were postponed, said the IOC would encourage but not force athletes to be vaccinated.
“You can expect there will be a campaign involving the International Paralympic Committee and International Olympic Committee with leading athletes encouraging the use of vaccines," said Mr. Coates, the leader of the Tokyo preparatory team. The Paralympics are scheduled to open after the Olympics.
Despite talk of vaccines, there is no guarantee the Olympics will take place. A fresh wave of Covid-19 cases around the world is also hitting Japan, which has reported new daily records of infections recently, although at far lower levels than in the U.S. and Europe. On Thursday, Tokyo reported its first daily total of more than 500 new infections.
If vaccines for Covid-19 become available soon, Tokyo might be one of the best prepared places to play host to the Games. Japan has already signed deals with three vaccine manufacturers to purchase 290 million doses, or enough for 145 million people—more than the country’s population of about 126 million.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said the government aims to vaccinate everyone in the country by the first half of 2021, before the start of the Olympics.
“I’m determined to hold the Games next summer so that we can show humankind’s victory over the virus," Mr. Suga said at a meeting with Mr. Bach on Monday.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.