One question that might be on people’s minds as they tune into the Tokyo Olympics: Are Olympic athletes vaccinated? When it comes to Team USA, a significant number of athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics are unvaccinated against COVID-19, the chief medical director of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) revealed in a press conference on Friday.
Jonathan Finnoff, D.O., said he estimated that 83% of the 613 athletes on Team USA are vaccinated, which means that about 100 U.S. Olympians are unvaccinated, the Associated Press reports. “83% is actually a substantial number and we’re quite happy with it,” Dr. Finnoff told reporters, shortly before the Tokyo Games opening ceremonies.
Dr. Finnoff said that the 83% vaccination rate estimation is based on health history questionnaires that 567 of the 613 U.S. athletes competing in the Tokyo Games submitted to the USOPC prior to arriving in Japan, according to the AP. Only 92% of the team shared their vaccination status, so the survey data are incomplete but still represent the vast majority of the team.
It’s not clear how Team USA’s vaccination rate compares to that of Olympic teams from other countries because that data is not publicly available. With vaccine availability and vaccination rates differing from country to country, it’s likely there is a lot of variation from team to team (and sport to sport, for that matter), even with increased access for athletes compared to the general public. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) expects that about 85% of all athletes and staff in the Olympic Village are vaccinated, putting the U.S. in line with the overall vaccination rate. But that 85% estimate is based on the numbers that countries have reported to the IOC, and has not been independently verified, the AP notes.
Dr. Finnoff said that the USOPC is not treating vaccinated and unvaccinated athletes any differently. “The best thing to do is to assume everyone’s at risk, and reduce risk by introducing COVID mitigation measures that we know work,” he said.
Those COVID-19 safety protocols including daily testing for the virus, temperature checks, symptom screening, mandated mask-wearing, minimizing physical contact and interactions with others, and tight restrictions on where athletes can go in Tokyo. That’s in addition to the ban on spectators and international travelers (including athletes’ family members).
Despite these measures, more COVID-19 cases keep popping up at the Olympics. So far, the IOC has reported 13 positive tests for COVID-19 among Olympics athletes, according to the AP. This week, the total number of all Olympics-related cases (including staff, coaches, and media) rose to 106, Reuters reports.
That includes three U.S. athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19. Tennis player Cori “Coco” Gauff announced on July 18 that would no longer be competing in the Games after testing positive for COVID-19. On July 19, reports emerged that gymnast Kara Eaker had also tested positive. This week, volleyball player Taylor Crabb shared that he would have to miss the Games after getting a positive COVID-19 test. Both Eaker and Crabb said they were vaccinated and did not have symptoms, making them rare breakthrough infections, while Gauff has not specified whether or not she is vaccinated or experiencing symptoms.
The degree to which COVID-19 will continue to impact the Tokyo Games is not clear. But with the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus continuing to spread, an unknown but apparently substantial number of individuals at the Olympics not vaccinated, and reports of breakthrough infections continuing to emerge, we’re likely to see more and more cases of COVID-19 emerge.