When the IOC postponed the Tokyo Olympics in March 2020, Japan had 865 active cases of Covid-19 against a global backdrop of 385,000 active cases. It was assumed that the pandemic would be controlled in 2021 or that vaccination would be widespread by then. Fourteen months later, Japan is in a state of emergency, with 70,000 active cases. Globally, there are 19 million active cases. Variants of concern, which may be more transmissible and more virulent than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, are circulating widely. Vaccines are available in some countries, but less than 5% of Japan’s population is vaccinated, the lowest rate among all Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries.
Pfizer and BioNTech have offered to donate vaccines for all Olympic athletes, but this offer does not ensure that all athletes will receive vaccines before the Olympics, since vaccine authorization and availability are lacking in more than 100 countries. Moreover, some athletes may choose not to be vaccinated because of worries about the effects of vaccination on their performance or ethical concerns about being prioritized ahead of health care workers and vulnerable people. Although several countries have vaccinated their athletes, adolescents between 15 and 17 years of age cannot be vaccinated in most countries, and children younger than 15 can be vaccinated in even fewer countries. As a result, few teenage athletes, including gymnasts, swimmers, and divers as young as 12, will be vaccinated. In the absence of regular testing, participants may become infected during the Olympics and pose a risk when they return home to more than 200 countries.
We believe the IOC’s determination to proceed with the Olympic Games is not informed by the best scientific evidence.