USOPC requires Covid vaccine for the Winter Olympics

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Olympians from the United States who participated in the Tokyo Games this summer were encouraged, but not required, to get vaccinated against Covid-19. More than 80 percent of them eventually got their shots.

However, this option will not be available to athletes who wish to advance to the next round of games.

On Wednesday, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced that all athletes and team members using the organization’s training centers and facilities must be fully vaccinated by November 1.

The organization also said that by December 1, all athletes competing to represent the country at the Winter Games, which are due to begin the Olympic Games in Beijing on February 4, followed by the start of the Paralympics on March 4, will show need proof of vaccination to join the American delegation.

The International Olympic Committee has announced no compulsory vaccination for the Beijing Games.

“The stark reality is that this pandemic is far from over,” wrote Sarah Hirshland, the executive director of USOPC, in a letter reviewed by the New York Times. “This move will increase our ability to create a safe and productive environment for Team USA athletes and staff, and will allow us to restore consistency in planning, preparing and serving the athletes.”

The new policy, first reported by The Associated Press, takes USOPC a step further than major North American professional sports leagues, none of which required athletes to be vaccinated in order to compete.

The decision reflects the severity of the ongoing global health crisis, as well as the ongoing uncertainty about the type of health protocols and preventive measures being used by the Olympic and Paralympic organizers in Beijing.

No vaccines were required for the Tokyo Games this summer, which were postponed for a year because of the pandemic. In July, USOPC chief medical officer Jonathan Finnoff said about 83 percent of American Olympians had been vaccinated for the Tokyo Olympics. And the IOC estimated that more than 80 percent of all Olympians who stayed in the Tokyo Athletes’ Village were fully vaccinated.

The USOPC’s new policy came amid speculation about the rules that athletes, officials, team workers and journalists will be subject to in China, where widespread bans and strict quarantines were quite common during the pandemic. Athletes and officials have braced themselves for a number of countermeasures, including the possibility of long quarantines and the introduction of a so-called bubble around the games.

As with the Tokyo Games, the IOC will be releasing a so-called playbook next month listing its tentative rules and plans to prevent the virus from spreading at the 2022 Olympics. 28 athletes tested positive in Tokyo before the Summer Olympics and during the competition, as did 13 athletes in Tokyo for the Paralympics.

The IOC has drawn up a uniform set of rules for Olympic participants in Tokyo and carried out the games as if no one had been vaccinated. It is not known whether vaccinated athletes will have other privileges in Beijing.

Understand US vaccination and mask requirements

    • Vaccination rules. On August 23, the Food and Drug Administration fully approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people aged 16 and over, paving the way for increased mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies are increasingly demanding vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally permissible and have been confirmed in legal challenges.
    • Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in public places indoors in areas with outbreaks, a reversal of the guidelines offered in May. See where the CDC guidelines would apply and where states have implemented their own mask guidelines. The battle over masks is controversial in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
    • College and Universities. More than 400 colleges and universities require a vaccination against Covid-19. Almost all of them are in states that voted for President Biden.
    • schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for educational staff. A survey published in August found that many American parents of school-age children are against mandatory vaccines for students, but are more likely to support masking requirements for students, teachers and staff who are not vaccinated.
    • Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and large health systems require their employees to have a Covid-19 vaccine, due to rising case numbers due to the Delta variant and persistently low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their workforce.
    • New York City. Proof of vaccination is required by workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances, and other indoor situations, although enforcement doesn’t begin until September 13. Teachers and other educational workers in the city’s vast school system are required to have at least one vaccine dose by September 27, without the option of weekly testing. Municipal hospital staff must also be vaccinated or have weekly tests. Similar rules apply to employees in New York State.
    • At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would make coronavirus vaccinations compulsory for the country’s 1.3 million active soldiers “by mid-September at the latest. President Biden announced that all civil federal employees would need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo regular tests, social distancing, mask requirements and travel restrictions.

Beyond the Winter Games, the USOPC is required to be vaccinated for all American athletes who want to take part in future Paralympic Games, Pan and Para American Games and Youth Olympic Games.

The organization left athletes the option to receive medical or religious exemptions, which they would have to obtain by November 1st.

Hirshland said in her letter that the guideline was supported by the USOPC Athlete Advisory Board. She added that the decision was “further reinforced by the approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration and recent federal government mandates.”

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