By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - The United States Olympic Paralympic Committee (USOPC) will help athletes find a COVID-19 vaccine but will not require them to get a shot to compete at the Tokyo Summer Games, CEO Sarah Hirshland said on Wednesday.
With U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday directing states to widen vaccine eligibility to people 18 or older by April 19 most athletes will have access to a COVID-19 shot long before the July 23 opening of the Tokyo Olympics but the USOPC will not mandate one.
Instead, the USOPC said it will provide logistical support connecting athletes and other personnel with places they can get the vaccine.
"We are not tracking, we will not mandate the vaccine either for Team USA athletes nor for any other members of the delegation," said Hirshland during the opening session of the three-day Team USA virtual media summit. "But we are encouraging it.
"We absolutely are facilitating that access to try to help connect folks with the local public health or local hospitals systems, local providers so that wherever they are training around the country they have an easy path to get vaccinated.
"We know many of our athletes and staff have been vaccinated because they have chosen to offer that information but this not something we will track or mandate."
The USOPC is encouraging athletes and staff to get the vaccine particularly with Japan entering what appears to be a fourth wave of the pandemic just 107 days out from the Games Opening Ceremony.
Athletes appear to be heeding the USOPC's advice and those taking part in the summit on Wednesday indicated they had either already been given the vaccine or registered for one.
Carlin Isles, a former collegiate American football player and track athlete turned rugby standout, said that after initial reluctance he planned to get the vaccine.
"I definitely had doubts getting the shot," said Isles, 31, who competed in the 2016 Rio Games. "Just for the whole purpose of my team mates (I will) because if just one person gets COVID, then it could mess up our team and everybody may not be able to participate.
"So I’m a little worried about the side effects, but I’ll deal with it when it comes."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, additional reporting by Amy Tennery, Editing by Ed Osmond)