Japan is preparing to offer COVID-19 vaccines to around 2,500 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and support staff, using vaccines donated for the Games amid public anger at the slow rollout of vaccines in the country.
With less than three months to go before the Olympics start, Japan is struggling to contain an outbreak of coronavirus cases and a majority of the population want them canceled or postponed a second time.
Only around 2.6% of the Japanese population has been vaccinated at this point, and reports last month that athletes are given priority have caused anger on social media.
But last week, Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE said they would donate doses of their COVID-19 vaccine through the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to help vaccinate athletes and their delegations participating in the Olympics and Paralympics.
Officials from the Japanese Olympic Committee and the Japanese Paralympic Committee said on Wednesday that they are currently asking each sports federation how many people want to be vaccinated and when it should take place.
“Our officials say that we will be careful not to cause problems for the whole population,” Miho Kuroda told the Japanese Paralympic Committee.
A report from the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said vaccinations could start as early as June, but officials said the timing, as well as other details, such as who would give the vaccinations, remained unclear.
Japanese regulations state that only doctors or nurses can give the vaccines, which has slowed the overall rollout of the country. Dentists were also granted permission last month.
The IOC, organizers in Japan and the Japanese government have repeatedly promised that the Games will run as planned from July 23 to August 23. 8, although criticism remains rampant both at home and abroad.
On Tuesday, a New York Times essay titled “A sporting event shouldn’t be a super-broadcaster” called for the Games to be canceled.
“It is time to listen to the science and end the dangerous masquerade,” he added.
While Japan has been spared the worst ravages of the pandemic, 11,000 people have died and the medical system has been severely strained by the country’s latest wave. Tokyo registered 925 new cases on Tuesday.