Japan social media backlash over possible vaccine priority for Olympic athletes

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Japan is thinking of prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines for Olympic athletes, Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday, sparking a furor on social media as the country’s inoculation drive significantly lags behind other major economies.

Only the Pfizer vaccine has so far been approved and just 1 million people have received the first dose since February out of Japan’s population of 126 million. Vaccinations for the elderly are only set to start next week.

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This comes against a backdrop of a spike in new cases ahead of Olympics that is set to start in July.

According to government officials quoted by Kyodo late on Wednesday, Japan has begun looking into the possibility of making sure its Olympic and Paralympic athletes are all vaccinated by the end of June.

The report provoked outrage on social media, even as Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato assured there were currently no plans to prioritize athletes.

“Give it to my mother first,” wrote a Twitter user.

“Athletes are all young and healthy.”

Many people noted that the original plan for vaccinations gives priority to medical workers, the elderly and those with chronic conditions, with ordinary citizens unlikely to get theirs before the summer.

“This is really weird. Given that we have no idea if even all the elderly will have received their vaccines by mid-June, you’re going to have all the athletes have theirs?” a user with the handle “Aoiumi2” posted on Twitter.

While the government has said it will push ahead with the Olympics as planned from July 23, a vast majority of Japanese want the Games to be canceled or postponed again.

A number of test events for some sports have recently been canceled or postponed due to concerns about the pandemic, and on Tuesday leading business executive Hiroshi Mikitani wrote on Twitter that holding the Games was “risky”.

“Honestly, I feel that the Olympics this summer are just far too risky. I am against them,” wrote Mikitani, the CEO of Japanese e-commerce group Rakuten Inc.

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