Olympic Games highlights global inequity in COVID-19 vaccination progress
5 Jul 2021
With the rescheduled 2020 Olympic games set for July and August this year, the low vaccination rates in Japan and the impending influx of local spectators to the events could make this year's games a major superspreading event in the making for the host country. Data on global vaccination programmes also indicate a highly patchy world picture.
The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will take place from July 23 to August 8, 2021, with a one-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it is unclear, yet, if the country and the world is ready for a global spectacle of that size, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
Japan’s vaccination program started later and more slowly than in other top economies and the influx of around 15,000 people from more than 200 countries across the globe will be a huge logistical challenge. Only local fans will be allowed at the Olympic venues, but the large inflow of people and the low vaccination rate in Japan leave room for local outbreaks, particularly considering the increasing prevalence of more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Philipp Rosenbaum, Senior Pharma Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Japan managed the pandemic well in comparison to many countries in Europe and the Americas, and current infection numbers are very low. However, the country has been slow with its vaccination program, with only 22.2% partially and 10.9% fully vaccinated people, and is lagging far behind other top economies. However, since the beginning of May, the pace of vaccination has been picking up rapidly from 0.05 doses administered daily per 100 people to 0.91 per 100 people daily, on par with Western European countries and matching the pace of the US in mid-April. COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca are currently authorised in Japan.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) assumes that around 80% of residents in the Olympic village will be vaccinated and foreign fans are not allowed. However, the lack of vaccine access in many countries that are participating shows not only a problem for the Olympics, but even more so for the global effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to most countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, Japan’s vaccination program is fairly progressed.
Rosenbaum adds: “If the global community would put as much effort and money into giving access and distributing COVID-19 vaccines globally and keeping SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks under control as into preparing for the Olympics and vaccinating athletes, many lockdowns, hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths could be prevented. COVID-19 vaccine supplies are still limited in most countries, with an unequal distribution of vaccines, and some countries, like the US, now having far more supply than needed.
“Furthermore, contracts, particularly from the US and EU, will lock up highly effective mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna for the next several years, if manufacturing capacities aren’t significantly improved. In the end, this will be bad for everyone, especially if the pandemic rages on in other parts of the world and new SARS-CoV-2 mutations threaten even vaccinated people. Thus, the pandemic and emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants will only stop if most of the world is vaccinated, requiring a global effort.”