Japan considers prioritizing Olympic athletes for COVID-19 vaccination

The government is considering moving athletes representing the country at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccination, an official with knowledge of the matter said Wednesday.

The athletes will likely receive both shots by late June, giving them long enough to recover from any potential side effects ahead of the July 23 opening ceremony, the official said.

In mid-February, Japan launched its vaccination program starting with health care workers, but the rollout has been held back by slow supply from Pfizer Inc. People age 65 and older will become eligible from April 12, followed by those with underlying conditions such as diabetes.

If the athletes are given priority, they will likely begin receiving shots before all older people are inoculated.

Discussions with the Japanese Olympic and Paralympic committees are just getting started, and it was still undecided whether all Japanese athletes or only those competing in certain events would be eligible for inoculation, the official said, while voicing concern that including coaches and other staff could invite criticism from the public.

The host nation and the International Olympic Committee have said inoculations against the coronavirus will not be a requirement to participate at the Tokyo Games.

But the United States has said it will vaccinate its athletes, and some countries in Europe and the Middle East have already begun doing so. However, Japan’s vaccine rollout has been much slower than many of those countries, with 0.79% of its population receiving at least one dose as of Tuesday, according to ourworldindata.org. By comparison, that rate is 32.38% in the U.S. and 46.58% in the U.K.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has vowed to stage a “safe and secure” Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, promising to implement thorough measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Athletes and staff will be tested for the coronavirus multiple times during the games. Organizers decided last month not to allow spectators from abroad.

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