Slow Covid Vaccine Distribution Adds to 2021 Olympic Obstacles

Slow Covid vaccine distribution adds to 2021 Olympic obstacles by raising concerns for Japanese citizens and fans. In terms of vaccination distribution, Japan has been lagging behind. Plans of postponement for the Olympics were announced in March of last year at the beginning of the outbreak. The Japanese government denies cancelation rumors and plans on holding the Olympics in July of 2021 as normal. They are not willing to cancel the games or put them behind closed doors despite the alarming number of coronavirus cases in hospitals

Cancelling the Olympics would result in a large financial burden for Japan. Budgeting for Coronavirus protections to the games is an additional $2.5 billion dollars alone. The Olympics are currently six months away, and based on last year’s postponement, March 25th is the date to look out for, as it is when the torch will be lit for the games. Starting in J-Village National Training center in Fukushima, the Olympic torch will travel across the country for 121 days before arriving at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo for the Opening Ceremony of July 23rd. 

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics face a long list of obstacles before the start date, as they attempt to carry off the postponed Games while Covid cases rise at an alarming rate. Obstacles include spreading vaccinations around the world and convincing  skeptical Japanese public to accept vaccines in order to welcome thousands of visitors from around the globe. Japanese citizens are skeptical of the effectiveness of the vaccine; they are worried of the infections increased risk with thousands of new visitors for the games, and they question if it will be worth having the postponed Olympics. Organizers for the Olympics say they will not require vaccines for fans and athletes going in, but the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, wants almost everyone in Japan vaccinated before the July 23rd start date. 

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With distribution continuing at a slow rate, it raises concern about how the Prime Minister plans on succeeding with the vaccinations. Vaccinations are slow for a number of reasons, one being simply the demand is greater than the supply. Medical manufacturers are working on new ways to create the vaccine quickly and effectively. However, making more vaccines is half the battle. Finding an effective way to transport the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine and maintain the conditions proposes a challenge. 


The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine must be kept at 94 degrees below zero fahrenheit. For a majority of communities, maintaining the equipment necessary to contain large amounts of the vaccine in arctic like temperatures is near impossible. One of the only packaging methods for achieving the required temperatures is dry ice. Each parcel is packaged with a GPS and thermometer in dry ice in order to help maintain the vaccines in shipping. 

When shipping large doses of the vaccine, it can be tricky to acquire the large amounts of dry ice needed especially when traveling long distance. Five pounds of dry ice turns to solid gas within 24 hours. Shipping large quantities of the vaccine to Japan proves to be trickier than expected. Therefore, not only is distribution going to be slow, but receiving shipments of medical supplies is delayed as well. 

Another obstacle is Japan’s lack of vaccine approval. More than 50 foreign countries have already administered Covid-19 vaccines, but Japan has fallen behind. While conversing with Pfizer, Japan failed to get all the paperwork completed before the end of 2020. Now distribution is going to be tough as a majority of residents are skeptical of the vaccine. Japan has a population of 126 million people. Distributing a vaccine that has not been secured before the beginning of 2021 is not going to be an easy task.

Japan finally signed a formal contract with Pfizer on Wednesday, January 20th. The country will receive 144 million doses by year-end. Although Japan is eager to make headway on the vaccine progress, it is unclear when deliveries will come from Pfizer and others. The city of Chiba plans both mass vaccination drives and patient-by-patient administration at hospitals, but the question remains: “will it be enough?”Without knowing the delivery date of the vaccines, there is no guarantee distribution can be achieved before July. The added complications of maintaining the shipments and stability of the vaccines continues to harden the obstacles being faced. 

Concerns over medical staff and doctor availability to help distribute vaccines are in question. Low staff will cause the rollout rate to be slower than anticipated. Time is money, and the Olympics themselves are worth a pretty penny.

Delaying the games is going to be expensive. Estimated costs start at 300 billion yen and are rising. Big costs come from keeping staff on the payroll and maintaining the venues. Japanese Olympic Committee is debating going back to local sponsors like Asics Corporation and Asahi Group Holdings despite other sponsorships rethinking and renegotiating their commitments. If sponsors decide to withdraw from their obligations, the government and IOC will have to argue on who is responsible for the payments. Contracts between the government and IOC does not negate postponements. 

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Another issue is who is able to attend. Two-thirds of the 7.8 million tickets available had been distributed. Ticket-holders were told their tickets would be honored in 2021, but what if the games are postponed again? According to the official terms and conditions, the tickets do not have to be honored or refunded. 

The question of timing is largely tied into the situation at hand. If the Olympics were postponed another year, would it be enough time? Distribution of the vaccine to a majority of the population will take time. Containing the virus is going to take longer. Questions of affectability are in play. Even with the vaccinations being distributed, the need for social distancing is still in play, masks are required, it does not mean immunity for anyone, so a year can be perceived as wishful thinking despite being a long time. 

Despite the numerous obstacles and challenges needing resolved before the Olympics are to be held in six months, the Japanese government feels confident in their plans to vaccinate and host the games come July. Working hard alongside Pfizer for vaccines, the country can see distributions within the year. Concerns about speed and accuracy of the vaccines have Japanese citizens worried about the soon to be visitors if the Olympics are held. Official confirmation of the games is predicted to be stated around late March as to whether the games will or will not be postponed another year in order to ensure Covid-19 is contained.


Meladi Brewer
Meladi Brewer

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