Japan Olympic adviser urges COVID-19 vaccine option for athletes

A health adviser to Japan's Olympic committee said athletes should have the option of getting COVID-19 vaccines.

The Olympic rings installed near the National Stadium in Tokyo.   -  AP

A health adviser to Japan's Olympic committee said on Tuesday athletes should have the option of getting COVID-19 vaccines, days after public outcry led the government to deny it was making them a priority.

Japan on Thursday had dismissed a media report that it was considering vaccinating all its Olympians by the end of June after the idea sparked a social media uproar amid a slow vaccine rollout for the rest of the population.

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But on Tuesday, the adviser, Nobuhiko Okabe, said that although vaccines should not be an obligation, they should be available to the athletes who want them. Okabe is an infectious disease expert who helped guide Japan's response to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 and advises on its COVID-19 response.

"I think the recommendation should be to be immunized, particularly for the athletes," said Okabe, who has held leadership roles in the World Health Organisation.

He said choices by individual athletes to refuse the vaccine for health or religious reasons "should be respected."

About 1.1 million health care workers in Japan have received at least their first dose of Pfizer Inc-BioNTech's vaccine.