Team USA in Women's Football team at London Olympics in 2016. Photo credit Chris Lepelt

COVID-19 positive athletes, vaccination rules challenged health regulations at Tokyo Olympics

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated 2020 Tokyo Olympic athletes find themselves at risk as the highly transmissible Delta variant becomes the dominant strain.

During this year’s games, there are 103 unvaccinated athletes according to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. With the numbers, American Olympic Archers Brady Ellison and Mackenzie Brown have opted not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “I think they help a lot of people, but I don’t think that anything experimental should be mandatory…until it’s approved, then it should be [a] personal choice,” said Ellison.

Conversely, there are a number of vaccinated athletes who are testing positive for illness. Recently, a member of the U.S Olympic Beach Volleyball Team, Taylor Crabb, was replaced by NCAA division one men’s volleyball player, Tri Bourne, because of this. 

“After taking every precaution, getting vaccinated and following protocols, I have tested positive for COVID-19,” revealed Crabb. Presently, the athlete is sheltering in place at the Day and Night hotel, but is expected to compete again this weekend. “This whole week has been devastating. Just one thing after another,” said Crabb. 

Alas, Crabb is not the only fully vaccinated athlete that has fallen prey to the uptick of the virus. U.S. Gymnast Kara Eaker is currently in isolation after testing positive. “Of course, it’s not anything we dreamed of happening or wanted to happen,” stated U.S.A. Gymnastics Vice President, Annie Heffernon. Currently, Eaker is doing well physically.  

“It’s been fun Japan, but I’m ready to go home!” said Eaker.

Still and all, the majority of Japan’s population is not vaccinated. According to the Center for Infectious Disease and Research Policy, 25 percent of the population has received one dose and 10.4 percent of the population has received two doses of the mRNA vaccine provided by Pfizer. The Japanese government has recently okayed the administration of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines

Rights as athletes 

Under the current federal labor law, Olympic athletes fall under the umbrella of independent contractors, but not employees. More than that, the IOC does not require athletes to be fully vaccinated.

“There are individuals who didn’t want to be vaccinated,” said Andy Anson, newly appointed CEO of the British Olympic Association (BOA). 

Prior to the Delta variant making its appearance to the world, some athletes did not get the vaccine ahead of the Olympics due to performance-related concerns such as tiredness, headaches, and chills. More than that, the IOC does not require athletes to be vaccinated

However, the IOC’s loose vaccination regulations have proven to be a double edged sword. Recently, U.S. Olympic Swimmer Michael Andrew who openly admitted that he is unvaccinated is being criticized for stopping in an area designated for reporters to interview athletes without a mask. “For me, it’s pretty hard to breathe in after kind of sacrificing my body in the water, so I feel like my health is a little more tied to being able to breathe than protecting what’s coming out of my mouth,” expressed Andrew.

| Read: Outdated? Recent cannabis legalizations in conflict with Olympic doping rules

Immediately following Andrew’s refusal to wear a mask, the IOC stated that not wearing a mask is a violation of the COVID mitigation protocols and that they would take action as needed. Not long after, the committee retracted their statement by revealing that athletes are allowed to participate in interviews without masks. Outraged, USA Today Reporter Chris Bumbaca referred to Andrew’s actions as “disgusting and selfish.”

“At the same time you also have to look at the science. Our numbers are headed back up throughout the entire world,” explained author, speaker, health and wellness ambassador for Discover Long Island, Dr. Michele C. Reed. 

“As far as the time table of when athletes get vaccinated is concerned, smack dab in the middle of the Olympics is not the appropriate time to do it. Earlier on in the training was the time it should have been done,” says Dr. Michele.

She added that people are entitled to do what they feel is right for them and their body. According to Dr. Reed, the issue is vaccinated people are among those who are contracting the mutation and spreading it to unvaccinated people and vice versa.

International Olympic Committee precautions

Thankfully, restrictions and rigorous testing have kept the amount of COVID-19 cases to a minimum. As a precautionary measure, the IOC has not permitted any overseas spectators into the Olympic games. Additionally the IOC has mandated regulations such as social distancing — staying 6.5 feet away from others unless on the field. 

Unless athletes are eating, drinking, sleeping, training or competing, they have also implemented a face mask requirement. Furthermore, there are limitations on the number of venues in which athletes can eat, access to hotel room service and catering. Finally, athletes, coaches and trainers are subject to daily testing.

“COVID-19 cases at the Tokyo Games are not burdening the city’s medical system,” said IOC’s Medical Director, Richard Budgett.

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