Israel intends to have all its athletes due to compete at the Tokyo Olympics vaccinated against COVID-19 by May, its National Olympic Committee said on Wednesday, amid global debate over whether athletes should be given priority access in the rollout.
Global coronavirus cases surpassed 100 million on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, as countries around the world struggle with new virus variants and vaccine shortfalls.
Israel, however, currently leads the world on per capita vaccinations, having inoculated 29% of its population with at least one dose.
“As part of the Israel vaccination for corona procedure already 50% of all the Israel Olympic athletes delegation to Tokyo have been vaccinated,” a Committee spokeswoman told Reuters in an email.
“By the end of May 2021, all… will be completely vaccinated against the coronavirus.”
Much of Japan is under a state of emergency due to a third wave of COVID-19 infections, but organisers have vowed to press ahead with the Games, which are due to open on July 23 after being postponed for a year because of the pandemic.
The Belgian Olympic Committee (BOIC) has asked its government for “400 to 500” vaccines for Olympic athletes and their entourage to travel to the Tokyo Games but insists it is not asking for preferential treatment.
“The intention is not to pre-empt healthcare workers and vulnerable groups, but we want to protect our athletes,” Johan Bellemans, chief physician of the BOIC told Belgium’s Sporza TV.
“But we are not asking for preferential treatment… certainly not.
“We want the Olympic bubble safeguarded against infection… We know that athletes have already been vaccinated or will be vaccinated. Obviously, we don’t want our athletes to be at a competitive disadvantage.”
Some countries are hesitant to prioritise athletes over those more in need of the vaccine.
A British Olympic Association representative told Reuters they have not spoken to their athletes about vaccinations and their priority remains “vulnerable, elderly and front line workers”.
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said some athletes have resisted inoculation as many raised questions about their performances being affected as a result.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has said that although participants will be encouraged to get vaccinated, it will not be mandatory.
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe has said that he was against the concept of compulsory vaccinations and did not like the idea of athletes taking priority ahead of vulnerable people or frontline workers.