In the face of growing anger over the government’s COVID-19 response, the Japanese Olympic Committee on Wednesday said it will begin vaccinating its athletes and officials next month while taking steps to avoid burdening Japan’s taxed medical system.
About 1,600 Olympic athletes, coaches and officials who are expected to make contact with overseas delegations during the games will be eligible for the vaccinations, which will be administered at Tokyo’s National Training Center (NTC) from Tuesday by medical staff from the nation’s governing sports bodies.
Within that pool are 600 athletes, including some who have not yet clinched their berths for the July 23-Aug. 8 event.
Japan’s total delegation for the Olympics and Paralympics is expected to number about 2,500. The Japan Paralympic Committee has yet to announce its plans for vaccinating its participants.
Non-Japanese officials who are not in the host country’s delegation but are expected to be deeply involved with Olympic operations will also be eligible if they are legal residents of Japan.
“We understand that as many members of each country’s delegation as possible should be vaccinated before they arrive so they can avoid spreading coronavirus infections inside Japan,” Keiko Momii, a senior JOC executive board member, said during a media briefing on Wednesday, adding that the organization aimed to take similar measures for its own delegation.
Momii stressed that the vaccination process will be exclusively conducted by the JOC at the NTC in order to avoid any burden on local governments, which have recently ramped up vaccinations for Japan’s older residents.
Calls to cancel the Olympics have risen in recent weeks, driven by frustration over Japan’s handling of the vaccine rollout and anger over athletes being given priority over the general public. The Asahi Shimbun, one of six national newspapers sponsoring the Tokyo Games, called for the event to be canceled in an editorial on Wednesday.
“This process will not affect vaccinations for older people at all,” Momii said when asked how the JOC would respond to mounting public anger. “We want each national federation to (do the same) for its own athletes as well.”
Earlier this month, U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc. agreed to donate supplies of its vaccines to athletes and officials coming to Tokyo after reaching an agreement with the International Olympic Committee. Momii said that the vaccines have already arrived in Japan.
The two-shot vaccinations, which are not mandatory, will be carried out with the support of the doctors working for national governing sports bodies as well as those with the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences.
By avoiding the use of public health workers, the JOC hopes to avoid concerns that have been raised over the number of medical officials needed to treat athletes at the games as Japan continues to claw back from a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.
Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto told reporters on Friday that as many as 230 doctors and 310 nurses will be needed per day during the games, adding that about 80% of the required numbers have been secured.
Delegation members who undergo vaccinations will be required to wait at least 18 days between their first and second shots. The JOC said that it is coordinating schedules with national sports federations but it expects to complete inoculations by the start of the games on July 23.
Some athletes who have to travel overseas before June 1 will receive vaccines earlier, and the JOC will allow returning athletes to get their shots at the NTC even during their quarantines.
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