Director of medical services for VANOC, Dr. Mike Wilkinson, left, and mobile unit manager Dr. Ross Brown speak to reporters in a mobile medical unit set up for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Whistler, B.C., on Wednesday, January 20, 2010. Wilkinson is confident that with the pace of the country’s vaccine rollout, every Canadian athlete will be vaccinated before this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Director of medical services for VANOC, Dr. Mike Wilkinson, left, and mobile unit manager Dr. Ross Brown speak to reporters in a mobile medical unit set up for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Whistler, B.C., on Wednesday, January 20, 2010. Wilkinson is confident that with the pace of the country’s vaccine rollout, every Canadian athlete will be vaccinated before this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canada’s top Olympic doctor expects entire team to be vaccinated before Tokyo

Canada’s stance is its athletes won’t jump the vaccine queue

Canada’s Olympic team doctor is confident that with the pace of the country’s vaccine rollout, every Canadian athlete will be vaccinated before this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Athletes aren’t required to be vaccinated to participate in the Games.

And so, with less than three months before they open on July 23, and with Japan in a state of emergency amid another wave of COVID-19, concern is mounting about how Olympic and Paralympic organizers can ensure the safety of 11,000 athletes from some 200 countries.

Canada’s stance is its athletes won’t jump the vaccine queue.

It likely wouldn’t come to that anyways, according to Dr. Mike Wilkinson, the Canadian Olympic Committee’s chief medical officer.

“Canada has vaccinated approximately just over 30 per cent of our population, and so we’re doing pretty well,” Wilkinson told The Canadian Press.

“It’s moving very quickly, I am confident that the athletes will get vaccinated, as well as the rest of the team (coaches, etc.), before they leave for Tokyo.”

He noted recent announcements in Ontario and Quebec that anyone aged 18 and over is expected to have access to vaccines by the end of May.

The arrival of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week is also good timing, Wilkinson said, and even a single dose of multi-dose vaccines provides excellent coverage and prevention of serious disease.

“We need to understand that vaccines are preventing serious illness and serious disease. It’s not 100 per cent eliminating chances you’re actually getting the virus, but it’s significant protection.

“But that doesn’t mean you can throw all the other prevention measures out, and so that’s why we’ve emphasized the whole time that we’re in control of how we can minimize exposure, which is essentially through the masks, social distancing, the hygiene, the hand washing, the sanitation, et cetera.”

Japan organizers released their latest edition of the “Playbook” this week, outlining safety measures and restrictions at the Games, including daily COVID-19 testing for athletes.

Athletes will stay within a “bubble,” moving only between the athletes village, competition venues and training sites.

Wilkinson said daily testing was good news, and will go a long way in decreasing the chance of asymptomatic carriers causing transmission.

The Canadian team, he said, plans to implement its own protocols for an additional level of safety. Wilkinson said the team is looking at technology to monitor air quality and is partnering with sanitation companies for cleaning and sterilizing of Canada’s area of the athletes village, which includes Canada’s accommodations and its own fitness and medical centres.

Canada will have testing capability for not only COVID-19 but other respiratory and gastrointestinal pathogens. Any athlete or other member of the Canadian team who tests positive for COVID-19 will be treated by Japanese public health authorities.

With athletes living and eating in close quarters at the village — think of a giant cruise ship — there are concerns about viruses ahead of any Olympics.

The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics saw an outbreak of the highly contagious norovirus. Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic withdrew from the 2016 Rio Olympics due to concerns over the Zika virus. And the 2010 Vancouver Olympics were held amid an outbreak of the H1N1 virus.

The dining hall is a cause for concern, but Wilkinson said organizers have nearly doubled its size, plus reduced capacity to ensure safe distancing. They’re encouraging “grab-and-go” meals, and have added outdoor dining space.

Will these safety measures be enough to prevent the Games from becoming a super-spreader event?

Six-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser sounded the alarm last week, questioning whether it’s safe to hold the Games.

“I have to ask the questions. And I think they’re fair questions,” Wickenheiser told CBC Sports.”(At the beginning of) the pandemic I said there’s no way the Olympics can go ahead because history told us there was no way they could. And now I’m saying I don’t know, I wonder if they can again.”

Many countries, including Canada, are being ravaged by yet another wave and new variants of the pandemic.

Canada has seen first-hand how a COVID-19 outbreak can bring an athlete or team to its knees. The Vancouver Canucks had to pause activity for 11 days after 22 players and four members of the coaching staff tested positive. Two members of the Germany team tested positive at the women’s world curling championships this week in Calgary.

And Olympic bobsled champion Alex Kopacz, who was hospitalized with COVID-19, described in heartbreaking detail how he drew up a will, said goodbyes to his family and friends, and contemplated his death during his darkest days.

Canada’s Olympic swimming trials in Toronto were just postponed for a second time, pushed back to mid-June due to the current lockdown and case numbers in Ontario. Swimming Canada said they still may be moved from Toronto.

FIBA, the world governing body for basketball, said plans to host the Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, June 29-July 4, haven’t changed.

“FIBA has developed a strong COVID-19 Protocol in conjunction with the WHO and the NBA, and we are working on its implementation in Canada with the local organizing committee and all concerned authorities,” a spokesperson told The Canadian Press. “FIBA is confident that the tournament will take place in Victoria.”

In Japan, meanwhile, polls have consistently shown that the majority of Japanese residents — as many as 80 per cent — think the Olympics shouldn’t be held. Less than two per cent of the Japanese population has been vaccinated.

This week, Australia and South Korea joined the list of countries saying they planned to prioritize Olympic athletes in their vaccine roll-outs.

Canada’s message to athletes, Wilkinson said, is not to fret about vaccine dates.

“Obviously, for athletes not knowing (when and if they’ll be vaccinated) does create significant mental stress and anxiety,” he said.

The medical team’s approach to any Games is hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and certainly Tokyo presents challenges unlike any other Olympics in history.

“We always prepare for worst-case scenarios and you truly hope they won’t happen, but at least you’ve done all the mitigation factors,” Wilkinson said.

“We’ve been advising the athletes and teams that we don’t want to be wasting energy and mental stress on worrying about what other people are doing. We can only control what we do. And what we need to do is minimize our risk.

“It would be great if everybody that went to the Olympics was vaccinated. The reality, given that we’ve got over 200 countries represented coming, is that not everybody is likely to be vaccinated. But even with that, we can minimize infection.”

Wilkinson has been to eight Olympic or Pan American Games as a team physician or CMO, most recently as the team’s CMO at the 2018 Olympics and 2019 Pan Am Games.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Joan Septembre went for a weekend hike at Lindeman Lake, parking next to a vehicle that had two windows smashed in. (submitted photo)
Thieves active at Lindeman Lake and other parking spots along Chilliwack Lake Road

The hiking community is lamenting an uptick in car theft and vandalism as the weather gets nicer

Coho smolts. (Tanis Grower photo)
OPINION: A giant, invisible problem for Fraser salmon and how to fix it

‘Successful examples of salmon-friendly flood control can already be found throughout the Lower Mainland’

Members of the Miami River Streamkeepers Society released 5,000 chum salmon fry into the Miami River on April 28. This is part of an ongoing effort to preserve and support local aquatic wildlife. (Photo/Janne Perrin)
Students and streamkeepers release salmon fry into local waterways

Agassiz Christian students have been raising salmon since January as part of class program

Chilliwack volunteer drivers are needed to help get cancer patients back and forth to Abbotsford (shown here), Surrey and Vancouver cancer clinics. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Volunteer drivers needed to expand cancer driver program to Chilliwack

Drivers will need to commit to one full day of driving, or two half days each week

The District of Kent Community Recreation and Cultural Centre. (Photo/District of Kent)
District fitness instructors welcomed into CUPE

More than 500 government employees across the Fraser Valley are part of the union

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in B.C.

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

BCIT. (Wikimedia Commons)
BCIT apologizes after employee’s ‘offensive and hurtful’ email leaked to Métis Nation

BCIT says employee’s conduct has been investigated and addressed

An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En’owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En’owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Rare yellow birds need wild roses to survive in British Columbia: researcher

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment

RCMP officers search around rows of luggage carts as screens block off an area of the sidewalk after a shooting outside the international departures terminal at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Police say gang conflict in Metro Vancouver may be behind shooting death at airport

Police said this generation of gangsters is taking things to new level and have no regard for community safety

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

Most Read