The International Olympic Committee announced Thursday it will provide athletes attending this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics with doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, free of charge.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved in Japan, although its rollout has been progressing slowly. The IOC has insisted that participants at this summer's Olympics and Paralympics need not be vaccinated to participate.
According to the IOC statement, the vaccine doses donated by the U.S. and German companies will be made available to national Olympic committees to be distributed in coordination with their local governments.
Japan plans to finish inoculating those 65 and over by the end of July. The Olympics opening ceremony is scheduled for July 23.
Both Japan and the IOC have indicated that athletes not be given preferential access to vaccines, which Japanese Paralympic Committee President Mitsunori Torihara reiterated Thursday following the IOC announcement.
"In Japan, the premise is that nothing will get in the way of vaccinating health care workers, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions," Torihara said in a statement released by the JPC.
"But I have told the minister for the Olympic and Paralympic games, (Tamayo) Marukawa, that if it is possible, we should proceed with vaccinating Japan's Olympic and Paralympic teams."
Japanese Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita likewise said he told Marukawa that vaccinations of Olympic participants must not negatively affect getting vaccines to those with higher priorities.
According to Marukawa, the vaccines would be available at the end of this month, and Japan could expect enough doses to inoculate 1,000 athletes and another 1,500 coaches.
While those entrusted with delivering safe and secure games are undoubtedly encouraged by the news that more athletes this summer will be better protected against the coronavirus, the idea of preferential treatment for athletes is a concern for some.
"I am uneasy with priority based solely on being connected to the Olympics," Yoshihito Miyazaki, the Japan Table Tennis Association's development director, said.
Olympic organizers have already ruled out allowing nonresidents to attend the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and could decide to hold the games behind closed doors.