U.S. Olympic leaders consider mandatory coronavirus vaccines for athletes

A large depiction of the Olympic rings is transported on a barge in Tokyo Bay on Dec. 1.
(Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press)

With coronavirus vaccines expected to become more readily available by spring, U.S. Olympic leaders are considering whether to make inoculation mandatory for American athletes headed for the Tokyo Games this summer.

The Games, postponed a year because of the pandemic, are schedule to begin in late July. The International Olympic Committee has encouraged athletes to get vaccinated as a “demonstration of solidarity” with Japan but has put no requirement in place.

The issue is crucial for an American team that will bring hundreds of athletes from across a large country that has been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee continued discussions at a board meeting last week.


“We are certainly very focused on building a vaccine plan,” USOPC Chief Executive Sarah Hirshland told reporters during a Monday teleconference. “I won’t comment on a firm policy or the plan yet.”

The USOPC says U.S. athletes can raise a fist or kneel in protest on the medals stand. The International Olympic Committee has a rule against demonstrations.

Availability could influence the board’s decision. There are also concerns about potential allergic reactions to the vaccine.

Even as the virus surges in Japan, government officials there say that new vaccines have made them optimistic that the Olympics can be staged as planned. “It’s a ray of hope,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike recently told the Associated Press.

The USOPC has paused all training at its headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. It could be four to six weeks before the committee announces a vaccine policy.