Long-distance runner Hitomi Niiya does not think Olympians should get special treatment when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines.
Niiya, 33, gave her opinion during a news conference on Saturday when asked about the International Olympic Committee’s plan to offer vaccines to Olympic athletes. The IOC on Thursday announced a deal with Pfizer Inc. to provide doses to those participating in the Tokyo Games.
The vaccine rollout in Japan has been slow, and most of the public will likely be unvaccinated when the games descend upon the nation in July.
“This is my personal opinion, but it’s really sad it’s perceived that athletes will get special treatment,” Niiya said. “There is no such thing as a life that is more important or less important.”
Niiya hasn’t been hesitant to offer her opinion about the upcoming Olympics, saying in January, it would be “meaningless” to host the games if the public was against it.
Niiya, who was named the Japan Association of Athletics Federations’ 2020 Athlete of the Year, said priority should not be determined by whether someone is an athlete.
“I want things to be considered equally because whether it’s a citizen or an Olympic athlete, you have to protect lives equally,” Niiya said.
Sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu seemed to agree.
“I think healthcare workers and the elderly are the priority,” he said.
Kiryu didn’t offer anything more, saying he wanted to consider the matter before giving his opinion.
Virus cases have been surging around Japan in recent weeks. Some areas of the country, including Tokyo, are under a state of emergency order that was recently extended to May 31.
Tokyo reported 1,121 new cases on Saturday.
National Stadium will be empty for the test event on Sunday, with fans barred as part of Tokyo’s efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
Even though the IOC has said vaccines will not be mandatory for those participating in the Tokyo Games, it has also encouraged athletes to get vaccinated.
Niiya, who holds the national record in the women’s 10,000 meters, has expressed reservations about receiving the vaccine.
“If I would put those around me in danger by not being vaccinated, then I will be vaccinated,” she said. “However, the side effects differ from person to person, so to be honest, I’m a little afraid.”
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